WEST ENGLEWOOD — With temperatures dipping into the 30s, residents of a South Side battered women's shelter that had no heat after gas service was disconnected for unpaid bills have something to celebrate: an anonymous donor paid off the past due balances and service was restored Friday.
"Two of the four accounts were paid in full. Over $30,000," said Jennifer Block, a spokeswoman for Peoples Gas.
Service was disconnected for a past due amount of $21,026.74 on Oct. 16 at Clara's Place, one of two shelters operated by the West Englewood United Organization at 1650 W. 63rd St. And a second shelter, Clara's House, was on the verge of having its gas service cut off also due to a past due bill of nearly $11,000, according to Clara Kirk, who founded the organization 26 years ago.
Now the 19 women and 23 children living at Clara's Place no longer have to go to nearby restaurants to wash up or rely on space heaters and extra blankets to stay warm at night.
Kirk said it broke her heart when she left the shelter each day to go home where she has heat and hot water.
"I have babies here as young as 4 months old. And these women depend on me to provide a home for them," said Kirk, a 72-year-old grandmother who has lived in Englewood for 39 years.
Clara's House is a transitional shelter where women stay up to 120 days, and Clara’s Place is a 13-unit apartment building for long-term occupants. The shelters service nearly 300 women a year, Kirk added.
Kirk said it takes about $275,000 a year to run Clara’s House, which is fully occupied, and $375,000 for Clara’s Place, which has 37 occupants, even though it can accommodate 59 people. Kirk said she did not have enough money to feed 59 people, which is why Clara’s Place is not full.
She added that because the organization does not receive any grant funding she has been running both shelters "on a prayer" for years.
However, board members said more fundraisers are being planned for the organization to prevent such a tragedy again, and expressed gratitude to the anonymous donor and all supporters.
"We are so thankful to those who gave from their hearts," said Rosilind Sculfield, a board member along with her husband Tony Sculfield, a radio personality on WGCI-FM.