Power shut-off leaves man in limbo

Glen Whiffen
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Another struggle for Kilbride resident used to facing obstacles

Having spent a week living in an apartment without power, Leo Horlick was looking stressed and a little haggard earlier this week.

Kilbride resident Leo Horlick encountered some problems this week when his power was cut off and he was evicted from his apartment.

Seven days with no hot food at home, no lights after dark except for a tiny flashlight, and no heat on a night or two back when the June air still carried a chill.

Around him, there was a glow of lights and the hum of televisions from other apartments in the building.

And, on top of it all, a notice for “immediate eviction” from his landlord was dragging his spirit down like an anchor tied to his legs and tossed overboard. He was just waiting for the rope to become taut and sink him.

He told The Telegram he didn’t know why the power was cut, and he had nowhere to go if forced from his apartment except out on the streets — a place where he spent too much time many years ago, an ordeal he had put far behind him.

The thought of going back to the streets left him shaken.

“Social services pays the bill,” said Horlick, whose apartment is at Meadowland Manor on Old Bay Bulls Road in St. John’s.

“I tried to call (social services), but all I get is a voice recording saying press this number for something, another number for something else.

“I don’t have a phone, so when I can’t reach someone when I call, I can’t leave a return number.”

New situation

Meadowland Manor is owned by Killam Properties Inc.

Glenn Rowsell, resident manager, said he has never come across a situation like the one Horlick finds himself in.

He said he encouraged Horlick to call social services — part of the Department of Advanced Education and Skills — to find out what was going on. In the meantime, he had no choice but to issue the eviction notice, he said.

“He was supposed to be out last week,” Rowsell said. “Once the power is cut a tenant is supposed to be out of the unit, because we can’t rent a unit with no power there.”

Horlick, 46, suffers from spina bifida, which stunted and weakened his legs and caused swelling in his head.

The Telegram ran a story about him in April, telling of his troubled life in Ontario before he moved back to Newfoundland in the early 2000s. He’s found some measure of contentment since. Despite his disability, he walks most places he goes with the aid of a cane, and stretches his income support as far as possible to survive.

But in order to get his power turned back on, Horlick learned that another chunk of income support may have to be redirected toward his power bill.

Horlick gave permission to The Telegram on Monday to call Newfoundland Power customer service about his account. The customer service representative seemed shocked about the situation, and was apologetic.

She noted a letter was sent to Horlick on May 14 indicating the total overdue balance on his account, and that the $85 per month that had previously been redirected from his income support toward the bill was no longer sufficient.

The amount would now be $155 per month.

According to the Department of Advanced Education and Skills website, income support — to assist with expenses such as food, clothing, personal care, household maintenance and utilities — for a single adult not living with relatives is $509 monthly.

In addition, up to $372 per month is provided for rent, and there’s a fuel supplement of $50.

There can also be an extra amount from other sources, such as Eastern Health, for special needs.

Horlick says his total monthly income is $362 — $212 from social services and $150 from Eastern Health. The difference needed to make up the power bill and pay arrears will have to be redirected from those funds.

“That’s what I get for my food, clothing and other necessities,” Horlick said. “So, it’s gonna be tough.”

Company consultation

In response to questions from The Telegram about Horlick’s plight, Advanced Education and Skills says it takes such cases seriously, but the department is unable to comment on the specifics of individual cases due to confidentiality rules.

“We can tell you that there has been a great deal of consultation with Newfoundland Power regarding arrears, and they have worked with us to develop a redirect process that minimizes disruption to clients,” an email response stated.

“A client will get notice of arrears directly from Newfoundland Power in the mail. In line with our philosophy of independence and self-determination, the relationship is between the client and the utility, unless the client asks us for assistance. Newfoundland Power would not know if a customer is a client of the department, unless there was an existing redirect agreement.  

“Upon receipt of a notice from Newfoundland Power, it is the client’s responsibility to call the department to get a copy of the redirect agreement form. The redirect form can be mailed, faxed or e-mailed directly to a client, or they can come to one of our offices to pick it up. The client fills in the form, signs it and sends it back to Advanced Education and Skills. This process is given priority and completed quickly.

“The amount a client receives for utilities is the monthly basic benefit and fuel supplement. No additional funds are provided to clients to pay arrears.”

Signed agreement

On Monday, to get the power back on, the Newfoundland Power customer representative said Horlick had to go to an Advanced Education and Skills office to sign the customer redirect agreement with Newfoundland Power. The nearest one was at Regatta Plaza on Elizabeth Avenue. The office is in Building 2 on the second floor. That’s across town from Horlick’s Kilbride apartment.

The Telegram was told that if Horlick got to the office soon and signed the form, and it was processed immediately, Newfoundland Power would be notified and would reconnect the power that day.

The Telegram and Horlick went to the office to fill out the form.

It was a little difficult to find the entrance at the rear of the building, and on the second floor there was a hallway with little signage to show the way. Horlick wondered whether someone used to dealing with “social services” would think the  door with the “Department of Advanced Education and Skills” sign was the right place.

Inside, there was a short lineup to a counter where three staff members were busy dealing with a variety of issues.

“Forms are over there on the wall. Fill it out and bring it back here,” one woman told Horlick.

Once Horlick signed the form and passed it back, it was immediately faxed to the appropriate source to get the process moving.

When Horlick returned home late Monday afternoon, the power was back on.

“I’ll be able to clean up and catch up on my TV shows,” he said, laughing for the first time Monday.

And, to lift his spirits even more, Rowsell told The Telegram that with the power back on, the eviction notice had been withdrawn.

gwhiffen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Department of Advanced Education and Skills

Geographic location: Old Bay Bulls Road, Ontario, Newfoundland Regatta Plaza Elizabeth Avenue

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Recent comments

  • David Brown
    July 06, 2014 - 06:29

    I know Leo and have tried to help him out a few times. He's honest and does his best to live on very little. So when I hear that we can all expect the cost of electricity to rise a mere 45.00 per month as a result of Muskrat Fall....I am left very worried about the Leo's of this province.

  • BOB
    July 05, 2014 - 22:51

    Kudos to The Telegram for helping this man out!! It can be a cruel and confusing world out there sometimes! Good luck Mr. Horlick.

  • Paul
    July 05, 2014 - 09:52

    Excellent piece of journalism. Thanks for watching out for this gentleman, informing the public, and putting pressure on the government -- it's clear the system just doesn't work like it should sometimes. Let's hope one of the PC leadership hopefuls picks up on this, and makes it part of their strategy to reform social services.