By BRADEN LAMMERS
A recent decision by the city of Jeffersonville is driving a fundraising effort to help a local homeless shelter pay an overdue utility bill.
The Jeff Cares group has established a relief fund at Your Community Bank to help offset the cost of Haven House’s outstanding sewer bill, according to a news release from the organization.
In September the city’s sewer billing office released a list of the top 10 offenders of overdue sewer bills. The effort was designed to help the city collect on more than $1 million owed for sewer service. Haven House was No. 2 on that list owing the city, at the time, more than $11,000.
But a recently passed ordinance, by both the Jeffersonville city council and the city’s sewer board, places the shelter at risk of having its water service shut off. An ordinance was passed in late-November, and the agreement subsequently approved, to allow Indiana American Water Co. to turn off an individual’s or business’s water for nonpayment of sewer service.
While an agreement was reached with Indiana American Water, city officials are still working to reach a similar deal with the city’s four other water service providers.
It was announced Friday that a group of community leaders, which include Jeffersonville City Councilmen Dennis Julius and Mike Smith, are looking to raise money to keep the shelter’s water running.
“The Haven House is at risk of losing its water service due to an expensive outstanding sewer bill, which could jeopardize their access to domestic water supply and potentially cripple the shelter’s fire suppression system,” according to the release. “This presents a number of problems that not only may lead to an unsafe situation, but also render them incapable of providing services during the coldest months of the year — and with no immediate solution in sight for the area’s homeless population.”
The release cited that Haven House, the only homeless shelter in Jeffersonville, serves a 14-county region in southern Indiana, has provided assistance to more than 1,500 people in 2013 and is currently housing 82 homeless people.
While the ordinance approved by the council, which both Julius and Smith voted for, would allow the city to shut off water service, the threat is not immediate.
At Thursday’s sewer board meeting, Wastewater Superintendent Len Ashack, Utility Billing Supervisor Elisha Dale and Sewer Board Attorney Scott Lewis said a policy needs to be determined before the city begins shutting off people’s water.
“It’s a growing community problem — our local homeless population has been displaced so much already in recent months,” Julius said in the release. “The shelter is the only place they have to turn for a shower, or a place to escape the cold. Our goal is simply to help buy them some time and keep this resource in place. Safety is a concern and it seems like the right thing to do at the right time of the year.”
City Councilman Mike Smith, who was also quoted in the release, said keeping the shelter’s water service would help mitigate fire safety concerns.
Before service is shut off to a delinquent sewer customer, the customer will also have the opportunity to go through an appeal process. The policy the city will follow is expected to be presented at the sewer board’s next meeting Dec. 19.
A call made to Haven House Executive Director Barbara Anderson late Monday was not returned as of press time.