Weather straining heating assistance in the greater Chattanooga area

Weather straining heating assistance in the greater Chattanooga area

January 23rd, 2014 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Kimberly George, left, director of development and marketing for the Salvation Army, and Candeis Tinsley, Salvation Army director of Social Services, survey the nearly empty food bank shelves at the 4th Ave. and 28th Street facility in this file photo.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


Call 211 if you need help with your utility bill during the cold weather.

Terry Moore Smith owes more than $1,000 from heating her three-bedroom home in November and December and is seeking help to pay it.

"I'm scared to death to see the next one," she said.

The 53-year-old widow is among a number of people across the city who for the first time are seeking help with utility bills.

When the cold clamps down and there's no money for the heating bill, agencies like the Salvation Army, the United Way and others try to help.

But this year, the demand for heating assistance is so great that several agencies are turning away more people than they help.

Salvation Army officials helped 40 families pay utility bills in December but turned away more than 100.

"The funds have not been there," said Kimberly George, Salvation Army spokeswoman.

It provided heaters for about a dozen families this winter, but turned away three times as many people because no heaters have been available.

She said people have mostly donated coats and blankets.

Rebecca Whelchel, Metropolitan Ministries executive director, said her organization is in the same position.

"Since the beginning of the year we've been clobbered with utility requests," she said.

Her agency helps 31 people a day, three days a week, with utility bills, food, rent and medicine. But it turns away at least 50 people a day.

The ministry recently paid about $4,000 to EPB in three days to help clients keep the heat on, said Whelchel.

"One big thing we're seeing is more first-time people needing help," she said.

According to United Way officials, the agency received 607 calls in December from people requesting utility assistance or information about utility assistance, compared to 407 calls in December 2012.

With temperatures expected to plunge into the teens for the remainder of the week, no relief of utility charges may be in sight. Even the high temperature on some days isn't expected to rise above freezing.

The EPB said it doesn't anticipate reaching the same record power demand as it did Jan. 7 when the low hit 5 degrees, but it does anticipate high energy use this month, spokesman John Pless said.

"There's a cumulative effect," he said. "When you have prolonged weather ... it's just a little harder to keep your home's indoor temperature maintained."

Rachel Gammon, executive director of Northside Neighborhood House, said her agency sees about six clients a day. Appointments are filled almost as soon as they are available. Anyone calling this week for help would have to wait at least a week and a half to get an appointment, she said.

"The majority of people use their resources wisely but they live paycheck to paycheck so it's incredibly crippling to get a bill for $150 more than usual," said Gammon. She cited one client whose electric bill zoomed from $150 to $300.

People needing help can get referrals by calling 211. They should bring cancellation notices, photo identification, Social Security cards, proof of address and proof of income to their appointments.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.