The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Nonprofit Groups Feel Chill

by Catherine Komp

Groups serving low income communities feel energy bill hikes as well.

This sidebar is associated with a full-length feature article, This Winter, Some Choose Between Warmth, Food, Health.

The effects of a sharp increase in energy costs reaches well beyond the people struggling to heat their homes. Nonprofit organizations – many of which advocate on behalf of homeless, low-income, and working class people – are also struggling to pay their bills.

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On Milwaukee's South Side, the 34-year-old job-training and –placement organization Esperanza Unida serves the city's Latino and low-income communities. The group paid a $121,000 heat bill last year. In addition to owning its own building, which takes up about one-third of a city block, the organization rents out space to other nonprofits and small entrepreneurs in a separate five-story, 58,000 square-foot building. Currently, most tenants pay about $12 per square foot, and utilities are included.

But Maria Gamez, president of Esperanza Unida, says they have no choice but to raise the rent to cope with the increases in utilities. She says her organization will survive, but smaller nonprofits might not.

"If you can't manage the cost," said Gamez, "you're going to be shut down… because first of all, they will shut off the lights, and if the lights don't work, you can't have people working in the building. And if you turn off the heat or the air conditioner, you're also in a situation where people do not have an environment to do work."

Gamez said she sent memos around to her staff and tenants requesting that they turn off bathroom lights, heaters, and computers when not in use. But she said even with energy conservation measures, many nonprofits work in older buildings that are not properly weatherized.

"We're taking valuable dollars that belong to the community and programs to fund our energy needs for the buildings that we provide the services in," said Gamez. "What do non-profits do, if all of our dollars are allocated for programs and then you get socked with a 40 percent increase? Where is that supposed to come from?"

Other nonprofits are simply working in the cold. At the Welfare Warriors office, Pat Gowens says they do not have anything extra in their budget to pay for the increases in heat prices. "I keep the thermostat down to 50 and try to keep warm with a tiny heater next to me while I type," she said. "However, nothing can warm up my hands, so I recently cut the fingers off some gloves and wear then for typing."

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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