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Energy Outreach Colorado’s experience with the issue of home energy unaffordability is featured in an article recently published in Inside Energy, a digital newsletter published by a collaborative public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Journalists Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock explain that a common benchmark establishes that paying six percent of one’s income for utilities is considered affordable, but many limited-income Americans pay 20% or more of their income on energy.
In the article, Skip Arnold, Energy Outreach Colorado’s executive director, explains that EOC and other organizations work to fill in the affordability gap so that struggling households can afford other necessities such as food, medical care and rent.
To see the full article go to http://insideenergy.org/2016/05/08/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-for-the-poor/.
Below, Lea Anne Shellberg, with daughter, struggles to afford home energy after a broken back and recurring battle with skin cancer ended her career as an interior designer.
A single mom working hard to make ends meet faced a difficult choice when her 6-year-old son began to struggle in school. To spend more time with him, she’d have to cut back on her work hours. Because of the seasonal nature of her Estes Park community, she worked long hours at a local restaurant May through October and part-time during the winter.
“I was working lots of hours, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, trying to get all the hours I could,” she said. But as the school year progressed she knew her son needed her, so she opted not to work part-time and instead focused on parenting. “I had to buckle down and re-teach him respect, responsibility, accountability,” she said.
With the help of teachers she was able to get her son back on track, but her finances suffered. She contacted Crossroads Ministry, which distributes Energy Outreach Colorado funding, and received assistance to catch up on her electric bill as well as supplies from the food pantry.
“What I gained is a little more respect for myself as a mother to know when it’s time to do what’s best for my son,” she said in a letter to Crossroads Ministry.
Tim McLemore, executive director at Crossroads Ministry, said his organization greatly appreciates being part of EOC's stataewide network. "Energy Outreach Colorado's help with utilities has made all the difference for this family and for many others in the Estates Valley," he added.
Participants take notes during a Crossroads Ministry budgeting class.
One of the benefits of EOC’s Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Program (NEEP) is the learning that is shared among participating nonprofits. For example, Warren Village First Step, a Denver nonprofit that provides a transitional living program for women and children, shared how their organization lowered energy costs by remotely pulling the plug on unused office electronics.
First Step Program Manager Victoria Ambrosio and her team learned that if they unplugged office equipment such as printers, coffee makers, phone charters and fax machines at the end of their work day, they could save the “phantom energy load” that the appliances would be using if they were turned off but still plugged in.
To make this simpler, they began using a Smart Strip, which is a smart power strip that can be remotely turned off to cut the energy that normally would be pulled from devices that are turned off. The remote-control can be adhesively placed next to light switches, thermostats or doors to help staff remember to turn off the smart strip on their way home.
This practice has helped Warren Village First Step reduce their energy bill by as much as 10%, which they can apply to such client services as employment training or clothing assistance. It is one of the strategies included in their comprehensive energy conservation plan developed through their NEEP participation with the guidance of EOC’s Energy Behavior Change team.
To engage Warren Village’s residents in energy-saving efforts, EOC staff led an onsite Energy Jeopardy Life Skills class. Residents are working together with staff to turn off unused lights and electronics and reduce the use of space heaters.
For more energy tips go to http://www.energyoutreach.org/get-help/energy-tips
Below, EOC's Erin Fried, right, leads Energy Jeopardy with Warren village residents.
Now that the weather has warmed up and fairways are green, consider practicing your golf swing to get ready for our annual golf classic, THE HEAT IS ON! We hope you join us at the spectacular Sanctuary Golf Club on Sept. 15 for a one-of-a-kind Colorado golf experience limited to 120 golfers. Your participation will help Energy Outreach Colorado continue to provide home energy assistance for struggling households. For more information please go to: http://www.energyoutreach.org/about/events/235-the-heat-is-on
Energy Outreach Colorado is helping Grand Valley Catholic Outreach discover ways to save energy and improve comfort at its transitional home for young families. The two-unit duplex in Grand Junction, known as the T-House, is used 24-hours a day to provide families with young children who are moving out of homelessness a more convenient and homey place to stay than an overnight shelter.
The staff at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach (GVCO), guided by Energy Outreach Colorado, formed a team to analyze the site’s energy use and develop strategies to lower energy costs so they can allocate more of their budget to other expenses. The team is including T-House residents in simple energy-saving actions such as turning down the thermostat when the home is unoccupied and turning off electronics not in use.
The T-House was selected to participate in EOC’s Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Program and will receive energy efficiency upgrades later this year. Grand Valley Catholic Outreach also is one of the agencies that distribute EOC energy bill payment assistance.
Home Energy magazine, a national publication that advances energy efficiency and conservation in existing homes, features Energy Outreach Colorado in its current edition. Download a free copy of the article at http://www.energyoutreach.org/about/news-events/242-march-april-2016-home-energy-magazine.
The publication for residential building professionals provides the latest information about energy-efficient products and best practices in home performance, energy efficiency, comfort, health, and affordability.
The article about Energy Outreach Colorado summarizes EOC's various programs and their contributions toward helping limited-income Coloradans afford home energy costs and save energy through financial assistance, home weatherization and conservation, and energy efficiency upgrades for affordable housing.
A Leadville senior with special health needs requiring life support is warmer and more comfortable in his home, thanks to improvements made through CARE - Colorado’s Affordable Residential Energy Assistance program. CARE is a partnership between Energy Outreach Colorado and regional energy resource centers such as Cloud City Conservation in Leadville.
Michael Truskol, who contracted polio as a child in Denver, lives independently in Leadville through the help of caregivers. He read about the new CARE program in the local newspaper and contacted Cameron Millard with Cloud City Conservation to see if anything could be done about his drafty home.
“Michael sleeps in a medical bed in his living room and we found a lot of air leaks and an open chimney vent,” Millard said. “We were able to seal the air leaks and install storm windows. In addition, we replaced his 30-year-old refrigerator with a new one and installed energy efficient lighting and a programmable thermostat. His day-to-day quality of life will be greatly improved.”
EOC helped launch CARE last fall to help the many limited-income Coloradans living and working in high-priced mountain areas improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Depending on the situation, these services may include air sealing, attic insulation, wall insulation, crawl space insulation, furnace/boiler replacement, refrigerator replacement and other measures.
EOC partners with regional energy resource centers, utilities and local resources to provide energy efficiency services to income-qualifying families and individuals. Participating counties are Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, San Miguel and Routt. Utility partners for the program include Atmos Energy, SourceGas, Colorado Natural Gas, Holy Cross and Xcel Energy.
“Being part of CARE is really an incredible opportunity for us to make a big impact on people’s lives,” Millard said. Not only are they able to provide more comprehensive help to the community, but the program also brings in more technical expertise to the area.
Pictured below, CARE case manager Cameron Millard with Leadville resident Michael Truskol.
Mike Armijo, 94, a World War II veteran and life-long Trinidad resident, didn’t let a simple thing like no heat push him out of his home last fall. He and his wife of 67 years, Rose, made do with an electric heater until their daughter contacted the Crisis Intervention Program (CIP) managed by Energy Outreach Colorado.
“My brother offered to have them stay at his house but my dad said he wasn’t going anywhere,” said Liz Ferna, one of the Armijo’s 11 adult children. “He’s stubborn like that. He and mom just wanted to stay there together.”
After a couple of months trying to get the 30-year-old boiler in her father’s home repaired, Liz found out about CIP. Al’s Gas, one of CIP’s certified contractors in the area, was able to get the aged boiler working again until it could be replaced with a new, high efficiency one purchased with funds from the federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program and an AARP grant.
Mike Armijo had their three-bedroom home built in the 1980s as a gift to his wife after retiring from working with the City of Trinidad in the water and sewer departments. “He made about 90 cents an hour during the 1950s and 60s, and he always made sure we kids came first and had what we needed,” his daughter, Liz, said. Today, the extended Armijo family includes 113 grandchildren and numerous great- and great-great- grandchildren.
“Their boiler is working now, and we all thank CIP for that,” Liz said.
To date, CIP has helped nearly 1,100 households across Colorado with furnace repairs and replacements -- a total investment of $1.5 million.
Pictured below, Mike and Rose Armijo of Trinidad.
Energy Outreach Colorado’s 27-year history of providing energy bill payment assistance is a critical tool for the dedicated case workers who help the state’s most vulnerable residents.
“Energy Outreach Colorado provides a solid, reliable form of help that we’re able to offer our clients,” said Ella Blowers, case manager at Denver Urban Ministries, one of the 107 assistance organizations that distribute EOC energy assistance funds. “We actually can say ‘yes’ to someone when they need help paying their energy bill, and it takes a huge weight off of their shoulders.”
This is in contrast to other needs, such as rental assistance, where help is not as accessible. When Blowers meets with a family or individual in crisis, she often advises them to apply for energy assistance, as well as visit a food pantry and clothing outlet, so that they can focus their resources on paying their rent. Getting energy assistance also is critical in cases where a family lives in HUD Section 8 housing, because having their home energy service shut off can void their income-based housing choice voucher and literally put them on the streets.
“It definitely contributes to more homelessness,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how much rent has gone up, but incomes haven’t.”
Navigating through these types of crises takes a toll on the entire household, Blowers added. “If a parent has a disconnect notice from their utility company, the children also feel the stress. If a parent is hopeful of getting help, it reflects on the kids as well.”
There also is a tangible connection between the inability to afford home energy, and the health of a household. “Cold just makes health conditions such as asthma and arthritis so much worse,” Blowers said. “Being able to resolve at least their energy bill can help remove some of the mental and physical worries so they feel like they’re making progress.”
Blowers noted that many of the families and individuals she works with are in shock to find themselves in a crisis situation after having completed college degrees and built successful careers. Part of the problem is the lengthy process to get approved for social security or disability income – sometimes more than a year.
“Anyone can experience a situation where they need help,” she said. “I see people all the time who have experienced a job loss or suddenly found themselves no longer able to work.”
Pictured below, Ella Blowers, case manager, Denver Urban Ministries
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