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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Shelters struggle to pay bills

High utility costs hit rescue missions hard

January 7, 2001

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— Money is there to help the elderly, disabled and poor pay winter's heating bills. But money to rescue those who rescue others is becoming short across the state.

Topeka Rescue Mission Executive Director Barry Feaker shakes his head as he compares the shelter's December gas and electric bill of more than $9,000 to a $3,600 bill from a year ago.

"This has been pretty amazing," Feaker said. "It wasn't one of the things we really budgeted for. You hear news about the rising costs, but you don't know what it's going to mean until it hits you."

Many relief agencies in Kansas face the unexpected hardship of recent rising natural gas prices, which is causing higher utility bills, especially during the recent spate of freezing weather. Also, donations have not lived up to expectations for some agencies.

Workers at Wichita's Inter-Faith Ministries took money from their own paychecks to keep an overflow shelter open for 108 homeless people on Christmas Day.

The Salvation Army's bell ringers have gone home, but the organization extended its holiday campaign through Jan. 30, hoping to meet its December goals, said Rebecca Dickson Simmons, divisional social services director for Kansas and western Missouri. This year, the organization that operates shelters in Lawrence and other cities in Kansas may need help itself, she said.

"Some of our locations run on a shoestring anyway, and then you add high utility bills," Simmons said.

In Garden City, the donations haven't fallen short, but the need still is great, said Salvation Army Lt. Nancy Casarez.

About 2,300 people are out of work because of a Christmas night fire that destroyed the ConAgra Beef Co. plant in Garden City. Many turned to the Salvation Army for help paying bills and to the community shelter Emmaus House for food.

Casarez said the Garden City Salvation Army had $10,000 in grant money to help pay the bills for the displaced workers.

"Right now we don't know how much the people need," Casarez said.

The Hutchinson New Beginnings homeless shelter saw its utility bill shoot from $320 in November to $820 in December, said board member Suzy Christopher.

The shelter houses 24 people, but has a waiting list of about 50 year-round. She said though holiday donations were good, she still worries about the shelter paying its bills.

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