Heating season in Metro Detroit can be tough on families with average household incomes. For low-income families however, the burden can mean having to choose between eating and heating the family home. Winter brings shorter days resulting in higher demands for electricity. It also brings the cold and increases consumption of natural gas. During this time of year, many area residents fall behind in paying their utility bills – particularly those living on a fixed income or who have lower paying jobs.
The demand for emergency utility assistance in Wayne County and in the City of Detroit peaks in late February, early March. Heat-related emergencies ranked number one among the more than 26,000 calls that came into Wayne Metro’s customer service center over the past three months. With ten full-time call center specialists manning the phones 40 hours per week, Agency officials say calls come in all day long and callers remain on hold until they can speak to the next available operator. All are looking for a helping hand during their greatest time of need.
“Every year, the need far exceeds the funds that we receive through State and Federal grants,” says Mia Cupp, director of development and communications for Wayne Metro. “With income eligibility capped at $17,505 for an individual and $35,775 for a family of four, these funds can only assist a handful of residents. Eligibility guidelines are very strict. That is why the Walk for Warmth is so crucial.”
“Winter bills can be 50 percent to 110 percent higher than summer bills. It can vary based on what the temperature is outside to whether the home is well insulated or has drafty windows and doors,” says Alexis Wiley, mayoral chief of staff. “One cold week, one life event, one paycheck missed and a chain reaction can start leading to shut offs, eviction, and even homelessness,” Wiley states.
Wayne Metro hosts the Walk for Warmth to raise funds and awareness about heat-related emergencies and how communities, organizations, and individuals can rally to help. This year the Walk will be held at Ford Field and will take place on Saturday, February 21st from 8:30am – 12:00pm.
Led by the River Rouge High School Marching Band, walkers will do laps around the concourse and can participate in on-field activities including kicking a field goal and touring the player locker rooms. Co-chaired by DTE President and COO Mark Stiers, City of Detroit Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley, and Channel 7 Meteorologist Keenan Smith, the 2015 Walk is expected to raise more than $100,000 through sponsorships, team and individual contributions.
New to this year’s festivities is official Walk for Warmth mascot Puddles the Penguin. Puddles has visited several classrooms across Wayne County, marched in parades, and even attended holiday food giveaway events. Puddles and Lion’s Mascot Roary will be at the Walk and available for photos. The event is free and open to the public. Walkers who pledge a minimum of $20 will receive an official Walk for Warmth t-shirt.