Centerstone was contacted by Jean’s daughter Stacy who was looking for help for her mother. Jean has a chronic respiratory illness which requires her to use medical life support equipment at home. Since Jean is unable to work, meeting expenses can always be challenging. Stacy is usually able to help but has had to recently take care of emergencies with her children. Jean was awarded $150 from Bridge the Gap to help keep her electricity and medical devices running. “My mom worries a lot so having this help lets her focus on getting stronger” says Stacy. “We are thankful for how you have helped our family.”

“I’ve been so worried about how I’m going to make it. My kids are everything and I hate that they have to go through this.” Constance, a domestic violence survivor, relocated to Seattle in January of ‘14 after escaping an abusive partner. She and her kids slept on couches and in their car until she was able to scrape up enough money to lease a small apartment. After a few months, her money began to run out and she was having a very difficult time making ends meet. “When we got our place I thought that everything would be okay, but our money just wasn’t enough.”

After being referred to Centerstone by a friend, Constance received an energy assistance grant but still needed more to prevent her lights from being turned off. Bridge the Gap provided Constance and her family with the extra $393 she needed to keep her power and lights.

Constance is now working and current on all of her bills. “My kids are happy and warm. I’m thankful that there is help for people in situations like ours.”

“I can’t thank you enough for everything that you have done for me. I’ll be okay after this.  You have helped a lot.”

Joshua was a single dad facing not only disconnection of his electricity but also eviction from his apartment which he shares with his young son. After only working part-time for most of 2014, he had just been accepted to a trades apprenticeship program which will provide income and other support services, including child care, while he completes his training. However, all of that seemed to be in jeopardy. After searching for help he was referred to Centerstone for assistance with his light bill. Joshua applied for energy assistance but was still $150 short of what he needed to prevent disconnection.

Joshua received a $150 Bridge the Gap donation which ensured that he would keep his electricity and heat. He was also referred to the Centerstone Rental Assistance Program which helped him with his outstanding rent so that he and his son can remain in their apartment.

April moved to Seattle from California in the 70’s and never looked back. As single mother of four, she had to work hard to make it and was always encouraged by the opportunity and beauty that the Pacific Northwest provided.  April worked many different jobs but spending time with children had always been her passion. In 2009 she opened a day care in her home and looked after the toddlers in her neighborhood.

In October of 2012, April came home to discover that a broken pipe had caused flooding in her basement and playroom, the most functional areas of the daycare. The damage was significant and the daycare had to close. With little help from her landlord or renter’s insurance, the flood left April with thousands of dollars in repairs and no income. Getting the repairs finished has been further complicated by the onset of medical problems and the accompanying bills.

Although things have gotten better for April, she is working two part-time jobs, money is still tight. In December of 2014, April applied for Energy Assistance to help keep her gas on. Thankfully, Centerstone had Bridge the Gap funding and was able to pledge the $280 needed to keep April’s gas from being disconnected. “I am so thankful for all of your help, I wouldn’t be able to make it without you.”

Bernice applied for Energy Assistance and assumed that her holidays would be warm and comfortable after receiving a new delivery of heating oil. Thankful for the warmer than usual weather that Seattle was experiencing, she was happy to be able to use her furnace sparingly so that her oil would stretch as far as possible. During a cold snap, Bernice decided that she needed to maintain consistent heat and dialed up the temperature setting on her thermostat. Curiously, she didn’t hear the usual sounds associated with her furnace starting. After the furnace failed to produce heat, she began to panic. “I didn’t know what to do!” she said. “I’m 86 years old and I need my heat. I called Centerstone because I knew that they would be able to help me.”

Centerstone’s Energy Assistance Program works with local heating companies, many of which provide heating system repair to their customers. We made a call to Sound Oil and who sent a technician over the next morning. The technician discovered that Bernice’s electrical panel had failing wiring going to her furnace that needed to be adjusted to get the heat back on. Because of Bridge the Gap donations, Centerstone was able to cover the $328 cost and authorized the technician to make the repairs on the day of his visit.

Bernice has lived in her home for over 50 years and does everything that she can with her small Social Security income to keep her home habitable. “I sure am happy that you were able to get that old furnace running! I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it myself. Thank you and Happy Holidays!” Bernice said excitedly.

 

Eight months pregnant with two other children at home, Alicia came to Centerstone in a panic.  Surviving on a small cash subsidy for pregnant women from the Department of Social and Health Services and food stamps, Alicia had trouble making her gas and electric payments, when the disconnection notices began to arrive.  First came the disconnection letter from Seattle City Light, followed by Puget Sound Energy.

With her 11 year old daughter in school, Alicia knew her daughter would be taken care of during the day if the power was disconnected, but home alone with her 4 year old son, Alicia had nowhere to turn, no family to lean on.  Alicia was on her own.  Alicia’s federal LIHEAP grant helped to cover the cost of her main heating source (her gas), but it was impossible for her to run her gas without her electricity, for which she owed nearly $400 in past due bills.  Thankfully, anonymous donors from Centerstone’s Bridge the Gap Campaign stepped in, and pledged $250 to Alicia’s account, allowing her to maintain her electricity and reach the threshold to access other services through Seattle City Light’s Emergency Low-Income Assistance Program.  Now Alicia and her family can look forward to the arrival of their newest member without living in fear, something which Alicia is extremely grateful for.

Barbara has struggled to live a “normal life” for the last 54 years, despite suffering from mental illness.  An active member in her community, Barbara serves as a local representative for the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, advocating for herself and for others who live with mental illness.  Classifying herself as “a college drop-out,” Barbara struggled to get her bachelor’s degree twice with the support of her family, first from Pacific Lutheran University, and then several years later she attempted to graduate from the University of Washington, but both times came up a few credits shy of a degree.

Because of her disease, Barbara was never able to hold down a permanent job and is unable to provide for herself financially.  She survives on Supplemental Security Income and lives in a subsidized apartment that costs her 25% of her monthly income.  While her bi-monthly utility bills aren’t particularly high, ranging from $33 to $61, this amounts to nearly 10% of her monthly income, and for someone with such limited means, Barbara finds it a struggle to get by.

Barbara enjoys keeping active, but paying off her Seattle City Light bill meant that she had to stop attending her weekly Zumba class at the local community center, one of the few luxuries she allows herself, which helps both her physical and mental health.  It also limited her visits to her mother to once a month, as her mother lives in a retirement community near the Woodland Park Zoo and transportation is expensive.

When Barbara found out that she was a recipient of a Bridge the Gap donation, she paused for a moment before bursting out: “Oh my god! Oh, I wish I could reach through the phone and hug you. Please thank this anonymous donor very profusely.”  For Barbara, Centerstone’s contact had unnerved her. “I thought you were going to take away my grant when I saw you had called,” she reflected, expressing such gratitude and relief at being able to start over with a clean slate.

At only 58 years of age, Robert is dying of emphysema.  Completely house-bound with around the clock caregivers, Robert depends entirely on others to take care of him.  But last summer one of his caregivers turned on him, taking advantage of a sick, fragile man.  Robert lost his life savings, which helped supplement his meager income of only $710 a month in disability payments.

Without his savings, Robert was unable to pay his Seattle City Light bill and the charges began to rack up.  While his usage is very modest at under $300 a year, despite using electricity 24 hours a day for his machines that regulate his breathing as well as his supplemental oxygen, Robert found himself facing a threatening shut-off from the utility company.

Fortunately for Robert, his resourceful new caregiver Antoinette knows many of the social services around Seattle.  She got in touch with Centerstone and helped Robert apply for Energy Assistance.  They were both dismayed to discover he only qualified for $44 under the federal program known as LIHEAP, not enough to prevent his disconnection, his literal lifeline to this world.  But then Robert received a call from Centerstone, informing him of a Bridge the Gap donation of $200 to his account.  Since Robert has trouble speaking due to his illness, Antoinette told Centerstone: “You all saved his life, because the machines would have been turned off. It was beautiful what y’all did. That made his day.”  According to Antoinette, Robert was so excited that he even managed to stand up “and he doesn’t do that!”

Evelyn is one of those people who fall through the holes in America’s “safety net.”  Working for many years in an accounting office, Evelyn was laid off in May 2013.  Suddenly without a job, Evelyn struggled to find work in order to support herself and her ten year-old daughter, Angellynn.  Unemployment pay helped her and Angellynn manage during the summer of 2013 as Evelyn applied for job after job, only to get turned down time after time.  Without a degree in accounting, nobody wanted to hire her, so Evelyn decided she needed to return to school to get her degree.

Studying, still looking for work, and trying to scrape together enough to keep her and her daughter housed and fed, Evelyn’s utility bill came last on her long list of obligations.  Because Evelyn had a moderately well-paying job before being laid off, on unemployment she and her daughter just barely don’t qualify for food stamps or housing subsidies.  Evelyn is completely on her own, paying full-price for food, market-rate rent for the small house she leases in Southeast Seattle, clearly struggling to keep her head above water, but “making too much” to qualify for most assistance programs.

Eventually Seattle City Light came looking for their payment from Evelyn, less than a month after the United States Congress ended emergency unemployment benefits, and drastically reduced others for 1.3 million Americans.  For Evelyn, the unemployment cut hit like “a kick in the butt,” but not a motivating one.  This cut acted as another punishment for Evelyn, a single-mother trying to help herself and her daughter reach self-sufficiency.  Facing an emergency shut-off notice from Seattle City Light, Evelyn found out that once again she “made too much” to qualify for assistance from Centerstone’s federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, when anonymous donors from Centerstone’s Bridge the Gap Campaign stepped in.  $500 from Bridge the Gap literally bridged the gap for Evelyn and Angellynn, for once closing the arbitrary chasm that exists between those who “qualify” for public benefits and those who don’t.  For Evelyn, it was a moment of grace.

“I want to say thank you very much.  I so appreciate it,” Evelyn said recently, when asked what she would like to say to the donors who made this possible. “I don’t know how we would have made it without you.”

Life in Seattle isn’t easy when you are a single parent.  Many are familiar with the plight of the single mom, but more recently there has been a rise in single dads, without a commensurate increase in resources.  For a single dad such as Emmanuel, losing his housing could equate to losing his kids, since very few shelters accommodate single men with children.  This nightmare confronted Emmanuel in early January 2014, until Centerstone stepped in to help him restore his power, remain in his apartment, and keep his family together.

A single dad working to raise his three year old daughter and his five year old son, Emmanuel wasn’t aware that he was going to be disconnected from his electricity until his power was shut-off.  The warning notices never arrived, and he was horrified to find himself powerless with a purple disconnection notice taped to his door.  Not only were his kids cold and his food spoiling with the temperature hovering in the 30s outside, but Emmanuel knew that “the apartment complex doesn’t allow any tenant to have no power.  You can get an eviction notice for that.”

A certified dive master who has made a living for himself doing voiceovers for movies and dubbing for TV shows, Emmanuel’s work slowed down significantly when he became a single father.  Without any family to help take care of the kids and struggling to afford daycare, Emmanuel saw jobs slipping away from him.  “I haven’t done as much networking as I would have liked.”  Surviving on only $286 a month in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) while he looks for more work that also accommodates his role as a primary care giver for his children, Emmanuel turned to Centerstone for help.

$300 in Bridge the Gap funds coupled with his federal LIHEAP grant quickly restored power to Emmanuel and his kids.  More than just turning back on his electricity, Emmanuel wants the anonymous donors to know “that they did help someone that really, really needed it.  Because of them we still have a place. We would have been kicked out without that donation.  I’m extremely grateful.  They helped us in a lot of different ways.”