Sunday, March 07, 2010

Enough

Always this time of year are stories of children lost in fires connected to utility shutoffs. It's been going on every winter for decades. In this story, "State attempts to victimize mother of fire victims" 3 young children died.

"The Michigan state government is attempting to victimize the mother of three young children who died in a fire that erupted only hours after the family’s utilities were shut off on Tuesday.

The state attorney general general’s office has reportedly filed a neglect case against Sylvia Young, 30, for not being home at the time of the blaze. Young says she fears the state will attempt to take away the four children who survived.

The move by the state is part of a media-backed campaign to blame Young for the tragedy, covering up for those who are responsible: DTE Energy for cutting off her utilities, and the government for approving the utility company’s policy.

A space heater the single mother was forced to use to warm her seven children is believed to have caused the fire, which quickly engulfed the old wooden structure on the 4600 block of Bangor on the city’s west side.

Lost in the March 2 fire were Tro’vion Young, 5, Fantasia Young, 4 and Selena Young, 3, who died of smoke inhalation and soot. Thanks to the quick and collective action by neighbors the other children made it out alive, including three-month-old Serena, who was tossed from the second floor window. Sylvia’s 8-year-old son, Jalen, 11-year-old son, Tywon, and 6-year-old son JaShawn also escaped.

Spokesmen for DTE Energy have said they cut off service to the home because it had been “illegally” hooked up and there was no record of a paying account at the address after previous residents moved out in mid-December and cancelled their service.

Sylvia told the WSWS that the lights and gas were in her landlord’s name and were included in $650 in rent she paid each month. “The DTE guy said if I showed him a lease statement saying how long I had been there that might help. I told him that my landlord was on the way with the lease and he would be there in 15 minutes or maybe half an hour. He said he couldn’t wait.” She continued, “I had an outstanding bill from before with DTE—that’s why I put the utilities in my landlord’s name. I knew they wouldn’t hook the services back up because of what I owed, and I couldn’t afford to pay it.

Sylvia told the WSWS, “I am on FIA (Family Independence Agency) assistance. I’m raising seven kids on $347 every two weeks. Out of that I pay $650 a month in rent.”

Sylvia pointed to the hypocrisy of such claims. "DTE never contacted me to help. Everything is a money thing with DTE. If you are a dollar off on your payment plan they will cut you off."

------ There are many lies in this sad story, from the mother and WSWS writers. I see the same situations here in Podunk. Thirty-year old single mothers with 7 children. Some of the truth is Sylvia should not have 7 children and no daddies to help. The truth is Sylvia has reached the point where she no longer is eligible for much of the aid that is out there. She burned those bridges before the house burned.

If Sylvia is paying $650 for rent, then she has disqualified herself from Section 8 housing for some reason - this could be from not paying utilities as Section 8 requires you to be up to date on utility payments, or not paying her portion of the rent (in her case would be $20-65 a month), or someone in the home is involved in illegal drug activity. I know someone locally on Section 8 and her share of the rent to the landlord is $20 per month - yet she is 6 months behind in her rent.

All utility companies work with state and local agencies that assist folks in paying for utilities. Many have the words "Area Economic Opportunity" in their acronym. Folks are usually only eligible once a year for energy assistance - once AEO has you current on your utility bill they expect you to keep it paid up. Often such groups also provide weatherization programs, even for renters. You may be on a waiting list for a while, so if you continually change house/apartment that sets you back.

Here in the 'hood of Podunk, mothers, like Sylvia, move around a lot (especially if they've lost their Section 8) - to live a full year in the same house/apartment is the exception, not the rule. Even so, they still manage to stiff the landlord for a few months rent and quite a bit in clean up and repairs. Landlords give them a decent reference just to get them out of their rental - let the next slum lord deal with it.

The article does not say if Sylvia is employed or not but she is on FIA, which also has a low income energy assistance program and weatherization program. Since Clinton's Welfare-to-Work, women are only eligible for cash assistance for a few years (4-5 years) - although there are ways around that sometimes, however, this has forced most welfare mommas to work low wage jobs. Here in Podunk the majority of the Sylvias don't mind too much because childcare is paid for, they still receive foodstamps and Medicaid, and that yearly $4000-7000 EIC February tax refund is like winning the lottery.

In Podunk, every year these refunds are spent at Rent-to-Own, down payment on a used car at loan shark rates, on new clothes, new nails, new weave, and new boyfriend. The more responsible women turn half the refund over to the landlord for months of unpaid rent. But none in Podunk, not one, will pay old heating bills. For some reason there's this ingrained idea that electric and/or gas heat should be free, or paid by someone else. For decades mothers went through the names and social security numbers of their children to hook up utilities, ruining the payment history of each kid. With technology and interagency connections that tactic can no longer be used - now Big Utility can see your new service request is for 9-year-old Lakesha.

If Sylvia's gas and lights were in her landlord's name they would have been current, and if not would be shut off - which they were which is why someone illegally hooked up Sylvia's electric. With Michigan winter heating bills in poorly insulated homes being at least $400 per month, and electric another $100 or more, her landlord would have little profit if he paid the utilities - and slum lords like their profits. Where was Sylvia's copy of the lease? Was she really out buying space heaters, or is that another lie in a lifetime raised in trying to game the system, while losing the game but dumb enough to think it's winning.

Years ago I felt outrage and despair at such stories, but it's misplaced emotion, because no matter how much we spin it, this woman and her children are not the victims of Big Utility or the capitalist system. Sylvia is the victim of a society that will not face the truth of what lifelong entitlement has done to the soul and character of generational recipients, the children are the victims of their own mothers and fathers. Enough is enough.

3 comments:

cliff said...

Gotta wonder where the daddy is. He (or they) have much blame to shoulder if he or they are alive.

Nicolette McClure said...

"There are many lies in this sad story, from the mother and WSWS writers. I see the same situations here in Podunk. Thirty-year old single mothers with 7 children. Some of the truth is Sylvia should not have 7 children and no daddies to help. The truth is Sylvia has reached the point where she no longer is eligible for much of the aid that is out there. She burned those bridges before the house burned." I am a white middle aged woman with 2 daughters living in an affluent community and I am deeply offended by Kate's post. There is so much I could say in response to this but I just want to share one point... Utilities...gas/electric/water are just basic human rights! Pointing fingers/judgements are always going to be part of the problem Kate...not part of the solution!

Kate-A said...

"I am a white middle aged woman with 2 daughters living in an affluent community and I am deeply offended by Kate's post."

Yes, most white, middle-aged women in affluent communities have mastered the liberal art of being "deeply offended."

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are human rights.

"Utilities" are not basic human rights. Perhaps you should include a cell phone and cable ... better yet, relocate to the 'hoods, then get back to me in a year about being deeply offended.

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