We have a number of exciting things to share with you in our Byrd Barr Place Spring 2014 Newsletter, including information on Centerstone’s 50th Anniversary Gala, coverage of the Community Action Partnership’s 50 years in existence, and an article on Byrd Barr Place’s new app (yes, we are going digital!). Thank you for your continued interest and support of Byrd Barr Place.  We could not do what we do without the support of our fabulous community and we look forward to sharing the next 50 years with you.

Eight months pregnant with two other children at home, Alicia came to Byrd Barr Place 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 Byrd Barr Place’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, Byrd Barr Place’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 Byrd Barr Place 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 Byrd Barr Place, informing him of a Bridge the Gap donation of $200 to his account.  Since Robert has trouble speaking due to his illness, Antoinette told Byrd Barr Place: “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 Byrd Barr Place’s federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, when anonymous donors from Byrd Barr Place’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.”

Byrd Barr Place works hard to provide nearly 10,000 Seattle households with grants to maintain their heat in the winter, but sometimes that grant isn’t enough to prevent a disconnection. Private funds through Byrd Barr Place’s Bridge the Gap Campaign can help these families hit by hard times find some comfort during the cold, wet Seattle winter, literally bridging the gap between Byrd Barr Place’s grant and the amount they need to maintain their power. Find out how you can help change a life today.

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 Byrd Barr Place 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 Byrd Barr Place 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.”

Deshaye was in a tough spot.  Employed as a caregiver for an elderly and disabled man, Deshaye’s employer passed away in October 2013, leaving her without any income to support herself or her two children, a six year old boy and a 21 month old girl.  In addition, Deshaye’s nephew had moved in with her family that summer.   Already struggling to support her expanded family on her caregiver’s income, including her growing teenage nephew, things turned from hard to nearly impossible in a matter of weeks.

A ward of the state and a foster child herself who was moved from house to house and family to family, Deshaye had nobody she could turn to for support when the bills started to pile up.  Deshaye knows she can only depend on herself to keep her family together: “Literally, there is just me.  My kids have no grandparents, uncles, aunties.  I didn’t stay long enough to get a family I can call my own.”

With a staggering bill of over $1000 that was transferred over from a previous address and without work, Deshaye found herself at Byrd Barr Place seeking help.  She discovered she only qualified for $275, as she hadn’t lived at her current address for the 12 months needed to give her a grant based on her family’s personal energy usage.  The $275 would not prevent her impending disconnection from Seattle City Light.  After Deshaye left in despair, she received a phone call only 30 minutes later informing her of a Bridge the Gap donation of $400 to her account.  “The extra donation allowed my lights to be kept on.  I cried when I found out. I don’t know how to express my gratitude.  It is a blessing that there are people out there who are able to help,” Deshaye reflected a few weeks later.

Now Deshaye is fighting to get back on her feet and look for work, “any type of work,” so that she can keep her family together and provide a better future for her nephew and children.