Three weeks into 2013 and the United Way of Bruce Grey is already finding itself unable to help some families seeking assistance from the agency’s Winter Warmth program.
Executive director Francesca Dobbyn said there is no money left to help people purchase wood, oil or propane to heat their homes. Eighteen families are currently on a waiting list for assistance.
“We have people without heat right now,” she said.
The agency has also exhausted a $10,500 donation from Westario Power, which is earmarked to help clients of the hydro company whose accounts are in arrears.
Money is still available to help Hydro One and Union Gas customers.
But Dobbyn said there are many challenges ahead in 2013.
The economic recession has made it more difficult for charities to raise money in the community. The local United Way fell short of its $750,000 fundraising goal for 2012 by about $150,000.
The agency’s Winter Warmth program was able to provide $340,000 in grants to help low-income residents with utility bills in 2011. That number dropped to $270,000 in 2012.
In both years, about 500 families received help.
A provincial Community Start-Up benefit, which could be accessed to help people cover utility bills, was eliminated in 2013. Dobbyn said the money was rolled into other crisis housing support programs and cut in half.
“Before we would be able to partner with the counties to pay portions of larger bills and create strategies for people going forward, but now there are significantly less dollars and eligibility has been tightened up considerably,” she said in a news release. “It’s going to be a long winter.”
The United Way of Bruce Grey’s Winter Warmth program provides grants, of up to $500 per funding source or utility, to low-income residents. The program also helps people with municipal sewer and water bills. The accounts must be in arrears, at risk of disconnection or already disconnected.
“People are making informed sad decisions. We’ve seen homeowners walk away from their houses because, while they can afford the mortgage, they cannot afford the increased utility costs,” Dobbyn said.
Intakes for the Winter Warmth program are managed by the 211 information and referral service.
Donations to the Winter Warmth program can be made by calling the United Way at 519-376-1560.
Dobbyn said she would like to remind veterans — anyone who served in the Canadian Forces — that they can access funding to help with utility bills through their legion's poppy fund.