The different housing and shelter providers in the Greater Hartford CAN come together every week to try and find resources to help assist households moving out of shelters and off of the streets into safe housing. Over the course of the last year, as housing programs and shelters worked together on more and more cases, a consistent barrier became obvious: utility arrears. Utility arrears are owed payments to a utility company. Luckily, Hands On Hartford, a non-profit organization that operates supportive housing, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, and volunteer programs, recently received a grant with the power to make big changes in our community.

Utility arrears, built up over time for a myriad of different reasons, could often be some of the greatest challenges to getting into housing. If you can’t get your lights turned on, you can’t live in an apartment. Housing programs can help find a unit, can help negotiate with landlords, and can help gather essential paperwork. But when it comes to getting the lights on, programs are limited in their abilities.

Very few agencies are able to assist with utility arrears, and while electric companies are occasionally willing to work out a payment agreement, there is usually a requirement for some immediate payment up front. For households who fell into homelessness because of a lost job, or because of overwhelming medical bills, there is often no savings in place to help tackle this bill. Staff were out of ideas, and households were stuck, just outside of housing.

Fast forward to July of this year, when Hands On Hartford made an exciting announcement- they had been awarded a grant to help pay utility bills. And better yet, they wanted to prioritize any households who were in our region, working with a housing program, but whose utility bills were standing in their way. The applause when the program rolled out was overwhelming, and the success has been as well.

Through this program, Hands On Hartford was able to serve over 60 households, including over two-dozen households referred by the CAN providers, with an average of $500 assistance.

Klaudia Lobeska, a case manager at CRT’s East Hartford Family Shelter said this about the program, “Hands on Hartford helped a lot of my clients. There are a few that have two bills and we were able to pay one of them and now they are working on paying down the other. One client had the balance paid off by HOH and she was able to have her intake appointment with a housing program. The Hands On Hartford funds helped very much in allowing my clients to be able to turn their utilities on!”

The immediate benefits of this grant were clear. More people are able to move quickly into housing than they were before these funds were available. That, in itself is incredible. But more impressive yet is the fact that a community that used to be deeply disconnected now is able to come together and address issues in a collaborative way. We can’t always find a solution the same day that we identify the issue, but this program is a great example of how a partner in our community, when presented with a compelling need and a new opportunity, was able to balance meeting the needs of some of their existing clients while making it a priority to address the needs of homeless and vulnerable individuals and families facing a barrier to obtaining a place to call home.