Andrew Dys

Brutal hot summer means utility bills ‘critical crisis’ for poor in York County

Paul Roberts of Hickory Grove, disabled, shows his electricity bill that jumped with extreme summer heat in the last three months.
Paul Roberts of Hickory Grove, disabled, shows his electricity bill that jumped with extreme summer heat in the last three months.

Nobody had to tell Angela Dulin, mom of a 7-year-old daughter, that she had to use more electricity the past three months as temperatures surged into the 90s almost every day. Her latest utility bill, usually around $100, is $159.80.

She does not have an extra $60. Her disconnect date is Friday.

At People Attempting To Help in York on Wednesday, the waiting room was filled with people, including Dulin, fighting bills that have grown far past the ability to pay, thanks to the summer heat.

“If I can’t get help, I won’t have any air conditioning,” Dulin said. “I won’t even have any lights.”

Dulin has turned off all electricity between midnight and morning, limited baths and more. But the brutal summer has left her close to despair.

Duke Energy raised utility rates in 2014 and 2013, and this month Rock Hill’s 13th consecutive utility rate hike kicked in.

But the working poor have seen no such raise.

“I make $7.25 an hour, minimum wage,” Dulin said.

She is not alone.

“We have seen an increase in people seeking help with their utilities from the summer heat that has been going on for months,” PATH executive director Cheryl Curtin said. “Many are in a critical crisis; some are elderly, disabled, have small children.

“Many are in dire straits.”

Among those needing help at the food pantry/emergency assistance non-profit Wednesday was a mother with three small children, a power bill over $200 in her hand. Several senior citizens had food needs and utility bills that topped $200. These people sat silently, hoping for a miracle to keep the lights on and the air cool enough to just stay alive.

A woman whose husband had a stroke at 42 cried in the parking lot. She wondered if they would die from the heat.

Paul Roberts, 52, of Hickory Grove in western York County, brought with him a bill for $217.70, despite being on a monthly plan to try to handle rising costs. Disabled with a heart condition, needing an oxygen machine, Roberts must stay inside – and must have air conditioning to survive.

His bill was due July 21.

“Today is July 29,” Roberts said. “I am running out of time to pay it before it gets cut off.”

Earl Deas, 79, who got his first job as a child and worked all his life until he could not, came to PATH looking for help as he and his disabled wife try to make it on Social Security. His bill is about $100 higher for the hot months. Deas was asked if he had it.

“It took forever to get caught up before,” he said, “and now I am behind again, and I can’t catch up.”

Deas showed a list of what help he needed in addition to paying for electricity – food, toilet paper, adult diapers.

At Hope Inc. in Rock Hill, the crisis ministry has seen a surge in new clients and expects the crisis to continue – all because of the heat pushing bills to new heights, executive director Bo Coleman said.

“We have seen people with utility bills from trying to stay cool in this heat that are $500 for a single month,” he said. “There is no way they can pay.”

For the poor and desperate, charities, non profits, crisis ministries, are the only thing between them and living not just in darkness at night, but blistering heat during the day.

Donations make the difference.

Volunteers do all the work, bagging donated food and assisting those in need. The PATH food storage room on Wednesday was being staffed by a family from New Jersey. They were in town to visit relatives in York and had heard there was a need for volunteers.

The family bagged food and bagged hope, so PATH could direct its money to those overdue electric bills instead of basic food to keep hunger at bay.

For the poor, Curtin said, extreme summer heat is not an inconvenience it can kill.

“These people are out there,” she said, “in our communities, who are using all their energy just to try to survive.”

Want to help?

Many places in York, Chester and Lancaster counties offer utility help and accept donations. Most serve people who live within that area’s school district boundaries. Call first to check hours and days of operation.

▪ United Way of York County – 803-324-2735; 211 is its automated referral line.

▪ Hope Inc. – 411 Park Ave., Rock Hill, 803-328-8000

▪ Salvation Army – 119 S. Charlotte Ave., Rock Hill, 803-324-5141

▪ Fort Mill Care Center – 818 Tom Hall St., Fort Mill, 803-547-7620

▪ Clover Area Assistance Center – 1130 S.C. 55 East, Clover, 803-222-4837

▪ PATH – 204 Raille St., York, 803-684-3992

▪ Tender Hearts Community Outreach – 511 Kings Mountain St., York, 803-684-3132

▪ Turning Point – 112 Gadsden St., Chester, 803-581-0219; 803-379-0888.

▪ HOPE in Lancaster Inc., 2008 Pageland Highway, Lancaster, 803-286-4673

Utility providers also accept donations directly from power bills that are used to help the needy to keep service from being disconnected. Ask your provider about getting involved.