By BRADEN LAMMERS
Jeffersonville’s homeless shelter will have the money to pay off its sewer bill.
Jeff Cares, a volunteer group, organized an effort to raise $11,000 in overdue sewer payments, and in three weeks has nearly met its goal. Haven House Services Inc. Executive Director Barbara Anderson said the shelter is a few hundred dollars away from having its head above water again. Haven House operates the Williams Emergency Shelter along Green Street.
Clark and Floyd counties’ lone homeless shelter was second on a top 10 list of the highest delinquent sewer bills that was released by Jeffersonville’s sewer billing office in September. And in November, the city council passed an ordinance that would allow Indiana American Water to shut off water service for nonpayment of sewer bills in an effort by the city to reclaim $1.2 million in overdue bills.
Concerns after the ordinance had been passed were that the homeless shelter would have its water shut off, forcing people out on the streets.
“The first one that really came to light was Barbara’s [bill at the shelter],” said City Councilman Dennis Julius, who also is an organizer of Jeff Cares. “When that came up, I called a few people [and said] I’m going to try and get this taken care of,” he said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
With an outpouring from the community handing over donations, Anderson said the shelter will be able to cover its bill.
“We’ll be able to cover it [and] there will probably be some excess,” Anderson said.
Despite the expectations that the overdue bill will be covered, Jeff Cares is still collecting money for Haven House. Julius said the goal is to leave the shelter with a positive balance to be able to move forward and hopefully Anderson can put a mechanism in place to keep it going.
“I think that’s money well spent,” Julius added.
But once the bill is paid off, Anderson said there is no way to pay the shelter’s next sewer bill.
“There is no plan and the city knows that,” she said. “The city knows that, and the city has the statutory authority to give us a [reduced rate]. This city has a responsibility to help nonprofits. The city has done nothing.”
The debt is not new to Haven House, as the city has long attempted to collect on the overdue bills. Anderson has asked for the shelter to receive the same considerations as the city-operated J.B. Ogle Animal Shelter. In previous years, the animal shelter had not received a sewer bill. The animal shelter has, and currently pays, a city sewer bill.
To help cover the shelter’s future payments Anderson said she plans to go to Jeffersonville’s Sewer Board and request a reduced rate.
“It’s a lot of money for a sewer bill,” Anderson said.
She explained that if the shelter’s water bill is about $500, the sewer bill comes in at about $1,000.
With Haven House in good financial graces, Julius thinks there is a better chance for support in having the reduced rate approved.
“I’m of the opinion if she had a zero balance and came in, it may look a little differently,” Julius said. “I think we can look at the rate for sure. I personally would be willing to look at a lower rate.”
Anderson is optimistic that the sewer board will be willing to entertain that option.
“I think there is room for dialogue,” she said.
Even if no rate change is considered for the shelter, Anderson believes the community will continue to support Haven House, which normally houses about 70 residents.
“I think this has raised awareness,” Anderson said. “The community has proven they support us. Hopefully, people will continue to give and we’ll get enough donations to continue to do it. The option is to close the shelter, and that is not an option for us.”
Regardless of the future sewer bills for Haven House, organizers around the effort said the outpouring of support has been tremendous.
“There are so many people who stepped up and helped with this its been just phenomenal,” Anderson said. “It is gratifying and humbling.”
She also thanked Julius and fellow Councilman Mike Smith for leadership they’ve shown on this.
Julius also credited the public.
“I thank the community for coming out and doing this,” Julius said. “We’re still taking money. I want to pay a little forward.”