Bills may force mother, quadriplegic son out of Section 8 housing

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 28, 2011

By Scott Jenkins
SALISBURY — Linda Worth’s home is warm.
Family photos hang on the living room wall above a fish tank and cling to the refrigerator behind magnets. A collection of angels rest their wings on a piano by the front door. A Bible sits on the kitchen table, its yellowed pages open at Psalms.
Worth’s home is warmed by the love she has invested while taking care of her 38-year-old son since a wreck made him a quadraplegic at age 6 and by taking in her 4-month-old niece, who’s now a 16-year-old Worth calls daughter.
The home is full of warmth; but it could soon be cold.
Worth’s rent is paid with federal Section 8 housing assistance. The Rowan County Housing Authority has told Worth that assistance will be cut off unless she gets the gas turned back on and catches up her past-due bill.
That will cost $757.56. The Housing Authority says Worth has to do it by Friday, or she’ll have to start paying her own rent Dec. 1.
To Worth, that might as well be an eviction notice.
“I don’t have the money,” she said. “I know I can’t stay here for free.”
Worth has gotten some help, but she needs more. At Rowan Helping Ministries this week, she got a pledge of $300 toward her gas bill. The Salvation Army promised another $100. Piedmont Natural Gas said it would bill her for the $125 deposit required to restore service.
That leaves Worth owing $232.56. She doesn’t know how she’ll come up with that, but she’s trying.
“I’m really trying to save my home … not put my kids in the street,” she said.
• • •
In a way, Worth’s situation is like a lot of others.
The Rowan County Department of Social Services had $10,000 budgeted to help people with emergency needs such as utilities and rent, Director Sandra Wilkes said. That money was gone by the middle of October.
When it can’t help, Social Services sends people to the Salvation Army and Rowan Helping Ministries, where it funnels other funds for distribution, including its allocation from the Share the Warmth program by Piedmont Natural Gas.
Sherry Smith, director of client services for Rowan Helping Ministries, said the agency has two main programs to help people with cooling and heating costs, one funded with donations and one with state dollars.
Both are being strained by an economy that’s keeping more than 11 percent of the county’s workforce jobless and has left many local residents struggling not just to keep their homes, but to keep them livable.
Smith said the money is given to people in crisis, and there’s plenty of that going around with Rowan Helping Ministries seeing between 75 and 80 households every day looking for help.
With its limited resources, Smith said, the agency will keep helping until “all those resources have been exhausted, and we don’t know when that will be, but with the need coming from the community now, we don’t expect it to last long.”
• • •
Worth didn’t expect to need it.
Her gas was turned off last year, she said, and she spent the winter heating her small three-bedroom home on South Craig Street with several electric space heaters.
“It was great,” she said. “The house is real tight. It’s a good house, a really good house, and we had no problems at all.”
U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulations allow for the use of electric space heaters, but the home’s primary heat source has to be operational. So when the local housing authority inspected Worth’s home in September, she was told to get the gas turned on.
So that’s what Worth is trying to do. If she’s successful, Worth plans to turn the heat “way, way down” and use her space heaters.
If she can’t do that, Worth said, there’s no way she can pay the $525 a month in rent. That would take more than half the $875 in assistance she gets each month to take care of her son and niece.
She has to “shuffle things around” she said, to make sure the family’s needs are met and that her niece Iman can do some of the things she wants, like taking dance or running track at school. She does that until she can’t do it any more.
“I just don’t have the money to pay these bills,” she said. “I’ve gotten behind in my bills and I need help to get out of this … to get caught up, maybe stay caught up till the end of the year. Then I might have to ask for help again.”
• • •
Worth is used to helping others.
When her son, Eric, was so badly hurt in a wreck 32 years ago that he could no longer walk or take care of himself, she didn’t put him in nursing home. She learned how to take care of him. Now, he occupies a bedroom surrounded by scripture, pictures of angels and the machines that help him survive.
Nurses are in the home from 6:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. weekdays and until 7 p.m. weekends. Other times, Worth is on her own. She’s become a light sleeper, listening for a sound that tells her Eric’s airways need clearing before he inhales mucus into his lungs. Even if she hears nothing, she checks on Eric three or four times a night, sometimes reconnecting his feeding tube when he’s knocked it loose.
Worth listens from the couch in the living room down the hall. She has no bed. She gave it to her niece when she couldn’t afford to keep up the payments on the bedroom suite she’d bought for her.
She’s tried to work, but the restless nights make it hard to keep a day job. She’d rather keep her son and keep that schedule than put him a facility where she doesn’t think he’ll get the constant care he needs. If she’s forced from her home, though, she’ll have to.
“She just can’t put him in the car and live out of the car,” nurse June Smith said. “That won’t work.”
She wouldn’t get far anyway.
“My car’s sitting out here broke down,” Worth said of the Ford Taurus that’s been parked in the driveway for months. “I need a transmission in it. I can’t get it fixed.”
• • •
Worth has faith.
“I know things are going to get better,” she said. “I just need a little help.”
A little help to get back on track. A little help to keep her family together. A little help to stay in the Craig Street house she loves.
Worth has lived here about 30 years. She moved once, to a bigger house where she planned to take in another family member, but that didn’t happen and she stayed there just 18 months before moving back to Craig Street.
“I was blessed to get back in here,” she said. “This is home.”
It’s a warm home. But if she doesn’t get more help soon, it will be cold. And empty.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248.