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Families’ Frigid Struggle Many Poor And Low-Income People Do What They Can To Stay Warm As Furnaces Break, Pipes Freeze

Thu., Feb. 1, 1996

With the stove burners red hot, the oven cranked to 500 degrees and the fireplace crackling, it’s just warm enough for Diane Poor and her three children to fall asleep.

Like many Spokane families, the Poors are shivering through subzero weather in a home without a working furnace.

The family washes dishes in the bathtub, the only place with running water. All three bedrooms are shut off, too cold to use. The furnace is broken.

Poor and her two daughters sleep together on a hide-a-bed next to the fireplace. Her son sleeps on a couch near the kitchen and the open mouth of the hot oven.

“It’s really hard to put your kids in this type of situation,” Poor said Wednesday from her north Spokane home. “This is what they’ll always remember, being cold and hungry. I don’t want my kids to think it’s always going to be like this.”

The single mom had jobs taking care of elderly people at their homes until last summer when her patients finally died. Now she’s stuck between unemployment checks and welfare payments while she goes to school to become a nursing specialist.

The monthly public assistance check she receives doesn’t cover her $500 rent, her electricity bill and other expenses.

“There’s always going to be somebody who’s not getting paid,” she said.

Julie Pickerel, of the Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs (SNAP), said the agency is overwhelmed with family emergencies like the Poors’ this week.

“It’s just been insane,” she said. “We have been inundated with people who’ve called with furnaces broken or pipes frozen. We’ve got 40 people on our waiting list right now for broken pipes. It costs at least $100 just to get a plumber out there. These people don’t have that money. The phones are ringing off the hook.”

SNAP provided Poor with 100 gallons of free oil for the furnace, but it broke down during the cold snap.

Poor can’t afford to make the repairs. Her landlord told her she won’t foot the bill, because the rent is overdue.

Poor said her welfare check should come this week. After she pays the rent, she hopes the landlord will fix the furnace.

In the meantime, the family’s indoor cold wave continues. Even with the stove and fireplace roaring, it’s only 48 degrees inside.

Kimberly Poor, 11, started walking the dozen blocks to Audubon Elementary School earlier this week and rushed back home because she was too cold. Her fingers were purple. She was crying.

Her mother told her to go to school.

“They’ve got heat there,” she said.

Despite the current travails, the Poors remain upbeat.

“We’ve been real close,” Poor said of her family. “I want them to understand that this is a temporary situation.”

Poor said she visited churches and charities trying to find the money to restore heat to her home, but she’s had little luck.

Leaving her house, a reporter asked Poor how to spell her last name.

She smiled and said, “After I graduate, it’s going to be R-I-C-H.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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