Cold Temperatures Leave Seniors in Danger

Record low temperatures are sweeping the country leaving those without heat in serious danger. The good news is help is available through LEAP, a heating assistance program.

Susan Stark is a senior citizen who depends on assistance benefits for basic necessities. She had knee surgery last August, “When it gets cold I can feel it in my knee. It feels like severe arthritis,” said Stark.

She applied for LEAP this winter to help with the cost of heating her home. “They recently cut social security benefits. I don’t know what I would have done without LEAP… I probably would have been huddled in every blanket I own with my teeth chattering in extreme pain.”

LEAP stands for Low-Income Energy Assistance Program and is provided by local human services agencies. It is designed to pay a portion of individuals’ and families’ heating bills that qualify. It also provides emergency assistance when a family receives a shut-off notice or when heat has already been shut off.

Heat during winter months is a basic necessity. Stark understands that. She isn’t looking for luxury in life. She said, “I don’t need a fur coat. I live simply. I like living simply. I just need enough to stay warm, eat and stay healthy.”

Stark turned to LEAP for help because she is unemployable. She explained, “I used to work. I have never been one to be idle. I grew up on a farm, I graduated from D.U. with an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree and I have a knack for languages. But I’m old now and can’t do as much.”

Stark had a plan in case she was not approved, but it was not a pleasant one. “My social security was cut back and that put me in a hard place,” she said, “The only thing I could have cut back on is my doctor’s visits. I hate missing those but that is what I was going to have to do if I wanted to keep my apartment heated.”

Stark found out that she was approved for LEAP quickly. She said, “I just felt so blessed. That money helped me so much.”

Many other seniors are in similar situations. Cold living conditions can be extremely detrimental to senior’s already deteriorating health. Stark said “Heating is more of a health issue than people realize.”

Senior citizens are not the only ones who are eligible for LEAP. Anyone whose income meets eligibility guidelines may qualify. Often people are reluctant to come forward and admit they need help. “We are all in a world of hurt. It’s easy to feel alone. That’s normal. We have to know that it’s okay to ask for help,” said Stark.

Anyone needing heating assistance is urged to call 1-866-HEAT-HELP or visit www.denvergov.org/leap to learn more about the program

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