Dixon Urges Needy To Seek Energy Help

April 23, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Willitia Godfrey held back tears as she described how her mother, Betty, died in a fire caused by a candle after living without electricity for months.

"We are sure that our mother suffered many long nights in the house living without lights, using candles to light her way and sometimes using kerosene heaters to heat her soul," Godfrey said Wednesday at a City Hall news conference.

Since Betty Godfrey died on April 6, three other city residents have perished in two other fires. In addition to Godfrey's house, at least one other home did not have power.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon invited the Godfrey family to City Hall to urge all needy residents to seek assistance to pay for power bills rather than siphoning power or using candles.

"We feel your pain," said Dixon, who passed tissues to some family members. "That is why we are here. To really encourage people in communities to reach out when we know things are going on and to know there are resources to help."

But getting such assistance can be tricky. Godfrey had applied for help paying her bills in June 2007 but was turned away because her application was incomplete.

It didn't include necessary documents identifying all of the people living in her house, as required by state and federal regulations.

Still, Willitia Godfrey urged others in need to persist and to push through the bureaucracy: "If you have wake up early to stand in a long line, please do so. If you have to take off of work, please do so. Life is priceless," she said.

Officials pledged more help. "I'm going to find you if you are willing for me to find you," said Deputy Housing Commissioner Reginald Scriber, who oversees the city's energy assistance program. "I don't have a time limit."

Applications for energy assistance have spiked, with 40,000 city residents seeking help compared with 25,000 in 2005, he said. The state, he said, has provided millions more into the energy assistance fund.

Applicants receive a 55-day extension just for filling out the paperwork, he said, adding: "We will find way and means to get you turned back on."

Those seeking assistance with power bills can call the Office of Home Energy Programs at 800-352-1446 Mondays through Fridays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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