June 24, 2018
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Belfast program focuses on helping people heat their homes

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — A church here Sunday kicked off a poverty lecture series and learned from a new resident that the shame of poverty is overwhelming.

“I wasn’t supposed to be in this situation,” she told the group at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

“Who wants to talk about this? Nobody,” said group organizer Jennifer Hall.

The idea is to start solving problems by facing them, Hall said. The Unitarian Universalist Church hosts the programs. Sunday’s focused on keeping homes warm in the winter.

Sunday’s group had about 20 people sitting in a circle in the church. The woman who is new in town and asked that her name not be used said, “When you can’t heat your home you feel bad about yourself.”

The woman had lost her job and eventually her home and had to file for bankruptcy — her friends didn’t know.

“I just kept pulling myself up by the bootstraps until I was strangling. I didn’t ask for help until it was too late,” she said.

Jan Lightfootlane, one of two speakers from the Homeless Crisis Hotline at Sunday’s discussion, said,  “I have lived in poverty all but five years of my life. As a child I remember we played this game, ‘which bill got paid this month.’ And sometimes the oil didn’t get paid, so we’d use an electric stove for heat. I knew then not to talk about it. It’s shameful.”

“We need to erase that shame,” she continued. “We are the strong ones. We live without something and we know how to do it. We don’t like to do it, but we know how.”

Now Lightfootlane works with families in need.

The group discussed how if people in need don’t speak up and if people who can help don’t seek the people in need, nothing will change.

“In Maine we have a lot of people willing to help, but a lot of time people’s neighbors don’t know they are cold or need food or the basics,” said Marlene Lightfootlane, who works for the Homeless Crisis Hotline.

Marlene suggested people in need approach their town offices or apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP.

Dan Simpson, the spokesman for the Maine Housing Authority, said even the LIHEAP program is facing money problems.

“The president’s proposed budget for next year contains only half as much money for LIHEAP as this year’s,” Simpson said. “Congress has not acted on it yet so we don’t know what it will end up being, but it might be less. I think the delegation has said there should be more funding made available. It’s important.”

The federal program so far has distributed about $43 million in heating assistance to Mainers this year. Simpson expects to dole out about $6 million more before May.

The average salary of someone who receives LIHEAP in Maine is about $16,500 a year. That person received about $830 in help from the program this year. Most people who receive the money are elderly or disabled, Simpson said.

The next poverty lecture at the Belfast UU church will be 11:30 a.m. Sunday, March 20. The topic is “losing your home.” The public is welcome.

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