Heat or Eat?
In Wisconsin, 214,531 households struggle to pay rent and utilities. Of the 61 families receiving rental assistance through The Salvation Army of Dane County’s housing programs, 47 families report struggling to pay utility bills each month and are enrolled in utility assistance programs. These families often have to choose between “heating or eating” during the harsh winter months. On a limited and fixed income, this can mean deciding to pay the heating, electric, water, and other utilities or paying for groceries to stave off hunger. The annual moratorium on utility disconnections ended on April 15, despite chances for snow and heavy rains in the near forecast. This can mean difficult and potentially dark times ahead for families fighting to make ends meet.
Despite the intense struggle to get there, Danielle can’t stop smiling about her family’s new apartment. “There’s a backyard, and the kids even have their own bathroom,” she said. Danielle, her husband and their three children came to The Salvation Army in November, and they moved into their new apartment just after Christmas. “We came from California with a Section 8 housing voucher. A friend of mine said we could stay with her, but she changed her mind, and that’s how we became homeless,” she said. “We stayed in and out of hotels and our car until we found The Salvation Army.”
From the warmth of California to the biting cold of the Midwest, the family finally found their new apartment through a landlord who works closely with The Salvation Army’s DAWNS Family Rapid Rehousing Program. “It took us a couple months. It’s hard to find the places that want to work with you,” Danielle said. “Landlords see such a demand – it’s hard to find the price range and the area you know you want to be in.”
The move to permanent housing came during the polar vortex, when temperatures in Madison reached perilously low levels. Saving on heat and electricity was simply not an option, and Danielle and her husband had to work closely with their landlord, case manager, and various public assistance programs to keep up with rent and utilities on top of groceries, supplies, and childcare expenses.
Today, Danielle’s family beams as they sit on the couch in the living room. “We have the key. We met the neighbors. It’s just a dream,” she said. “Our two kids are in school and my youngest is stable and able to receive developmental therapy.” She said The Salvation Army’s DAWNS program and her case manager gave her the utility assistance, budgeting help, and emotional support she needed to succeed.
“For the last two years, I have felt like I have been pushing a car uphill through mud,” Danielle said. “The help received through The Salvation Army gave me the courage to keep pushing. It is because of you that I am able to look back on this hard time in my life and smile.”
Homelessness can happen to anyone - single men, single women, children and their families, the elderly, or young adults. Anyone could be one debilitating diagnosis, financial crisis, or house fire away from needing help. During a long, cold winter, many of The Salvation Army’s clients see their utility bills rise subsequently followed by a notice from their energy provider that all utilities will be disconnected unless they can pay the large and overwhelming overdue balance. A reality for many, there is help. If you or someone you know is in need of rental or utility assistance, please forward on the following resources:
The Salvation Army: 608-250-2200
Community Action Coalition: 608-246-4730
MG&E’s Focus on Energy Program: https://focusonenergy.com/residential