By Charlena Wynn
Housing, or the lack thereof, has become a sensitive topic of discussion as more Americans are faced with the prospect of housing insecurity due to low wages, high unemployment rates, and rising rental and mortgage rates. While housing costs continue to grow and wages are stagnant, many low-income families find themselves choosing between food, utilities, clothing, and housing. Living outside can be dangerous for a number of reasons not limited to assault and extreme climate conditions, therefore efforts to reduce and prevent homelessness is critical to Energy Outreach Colorado’s mission. Energy Outreach, based in Denver, Colorado, aims to ensure all low-income Coloradans can meet their home energy needs through partnerships and energy conservation.
While energy may not immediately come to mind when thinking of housing insecurity, Executive Director Skip Arnold says, “When I think of my housing costs – I think of my utility bills too. My mortgage, energy, water… without utilities, people can lose their homes.” Without an active service, homeowners and renters can be subject to eviction. Established through the Colorado government due to the decline of federal energy assistance in the 1980s, Energy Outreach began solely as monetary assistance. However through growth and partnership, Energy Outreach has been able to expand and help individuals keep and obtain homes.
Homes without running water, lights, or heat are subject to become condemned, thus parents may lose their children along with their homes. Energy Outreach recognized a need that is multifaceted – it’s not just housing but a plethora of social issues that can arise from the lack of energy. Working from the root of the issue can be helpful in alleviating many issues.
After losing a home, some find themselves perpetually haunted by their old outstanding bills, which prevent them from procuring new housing. Energy Outreach’s Homeless to Housing program looks for families to transition into housing and aid those families in settling in unpaid debt.
Skip firmly believes in keeping people in their homes and creating healthier and safer homes. In addition to financial assistance and transitioning homeless families into housing, Energy Outreach, through a contract with the state, repairs and replaces heating systems. And have also built partnerships with utility companies.
In Colorado, housing is at a premium, according to Arnold. With the decline in property and an increase in price, Energy Outreach’s main objective is to keep people in their homes as it is nearly impossible to find inexpensive housing. Building partnerships and coalitions with unlikely sources, such as utility companies and the government, has been critical to the success of this nonprofit. In doing so, nonprofits can gain support, create awareness, and elicit the credibility needed to make effective change. Energy Outreach works with all 60 of the energy companies in the state at some level which enables the nonprofit to advocate on behalf of its clients.
Partnerships do not only extend to utility companies or the state government, Energy Outreach works with other nonprofits and encourages community action to carry out their mission. “Coloradans really care for their neighbors,” says Peggy Hofstra, Marketing Director. Arnold says of their work with energy companies, “We [Energy Outreach] made a bill that regulates utility bills to offer consumer donations.”
Consumers have the option to donate once, monthly or otherwise to help other Coloradans when paying their own energy bills. Having this option available not only raises funds to assist families but also raises awareness for this issue.
As legislative actions are taken to increase green efforts, Energy Outreach advocates on the behalf of low-income families. Their work with environmental groups have led to more inclusive discussions on energy efficiency that includes low-income families.
Complex Issues Require Complex Solutions
Without partnerships, it would be nearly impossible to do the work that Energy Outreach has been able to accomplish. “Coalitions and partnerships…a powerful resolve,” says Skip. Because overdue utility bills can lead to homelessness, this complex issue requires multiple ways to address and improve the situation. Partnerships with various entities has led to the success of Energy Outreach and their goal to assist low-income families and by way reduce and prevent other issues as a result of homelessness.
Nonprofits should look to other nonprofits, communities, local and state government, and even unlikely partners such as corporations to help achieve their mission. Strategic planning with others can lead to an increase in funding, a better allocation of resources, support, and hopefully legislative action.
Charlena Wynn is currently pursuing her Master’s of Arts in Liberal Studies at NC State University with a concentration in examining the construction of Blackness in contemporary United States museums. Energy Outreach Colorado is a 501(3)(c) nonprofit located in Denver, Colorado that raises funds for home energy and advocates for safe, affordable energy.