Andrew Dys

90-plus heat looming, vulnerable seek help at Carolina Community Actions

Janet Brice of Rock Hill holds her utility bill of $392.47. She went to Carolina Community Actions on Thursday to try to avoid disconnection Friday.
Janet Brice of Rock Hill holds her utility bill of $392.47. She went to Carolina Community Actions on Thursday to try to avoid disconnection Friday.

Janet Brice, 42, disabled from a back injury and needing a cane, walked slowly into Carolina Community Actions on Thursday. The date was June 9.

Brice held a utility bill from the city of Rock Hill that had the word “disconnect” on it. The date was written in: June 10.

Thursday’s high temperatures were in the lower 80s. The forecast for the weekend was told to Brice: 95 degrees.

“I can’t live in the dark,” Brice said. “It’s going to be over 90 degrees this week.”

Nobody had to tell Brice, who worked as a nursing aide until she was disabled, that being “low-income” in brutal heat can be a deadly combination. She knows all about the city of Rock Hill raising rates more than 30 percent in the past decade, when nobody is making 30 percent more money.

So she needed to find somebody to help. Carolina Community Actions was that place.

In the waiting room were more than a dozen people, all in the same leaky boat. Overdue utility bills, and not enough money coming in to pay them.

Carolina Community Actions, helping the poor in York, Chester and Lancaster counties for more than 50 years, is a nonprofit which disburses federal Housing and Urban Development money to people poor enough to qualify under federal poverty guidelines.

Emergency assistance on bills ranges up to $1,000; There is also assistance for non-emergency utility bills – rent, air conditioning and more –for people who qualify.

“We have a high demand – and it is going to get hot,” said Diane Wells, community outreach program manager for Carolina Community Actions.

When Wells says high demand, it is huge. The agency served more than 10,000 people in 2015. In York County alone, almost 7,500 poor people were helped.

The emergency assistance program aims to help people whose cut-off date is within 48 hours. The goal is to maintain safe living conditions for people, Wells said.

“We want to help keep people safe,” Wells said.

The other programs aim at helping people find jobs, housing, to increase self-sufficiency and more.

The word that no one is afraid to use at Carolina Community Actions – a word that politicians rarely use but one that hits like a hammer – is “poverty.”

Carolina Community Actions was created in 1964 as part of the “War on Poverty” that has never been won.

The agency even has an emergency food program for seniors who don’t get enough food stamps. All programs are based on income and the number of people in the household.

Thursday is “walk-in day”at Carolina Community Actions. Monday through Wednesday, clients are seen after making appointments. Fridays, staffers take the phone calls to set up the appointments for the following week.

Many of the clients are senior citizens who cannot stretch food stamps and Social Security checks through the hot summer months.

It is the walk-ins who are often the most desperate. Janet Brice, with a bill of $392.47 that has to be paid by Friday, is one of those desperate people in Rock Hill who are often unseen until Carolina Community Actions throws out the safety net.

She had a day to either get help, or live through 95 degrees in the dark.

Need help?

Carolina Community Actions has offices in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Call ahead for hours and details.

* York County, 548 S. Cherry Road, Rock Hill, 803-366-5537

*Chester County, 129-A Wylie St., Chester, 803-385-5205

*Lancaster County, 101 Wylie St., Lancaster, 803-285-2034