[Hpn] NStar, homeless shelter at odds

W.C.Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 1 Feb 2003 10:53:10 -0500


Boston Globe Online / Metro | Region / NStar, homeless shelter at odds
Cutoff is threatened due to $162,000 bill
By David Abel, Globe Staff, 2/1/2003
The region's dominant electric utility company yesterday told one of the
city's largest homeless shelters it plans to cut off its electricity next
week.

NStar won't treat the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, which
houses hundreds of the city's homeless every night, differently than any
other client, officials there said yesterday. For years, the shelter has
owed the utility more than $150,000, and the utility wants its money.
''The bottom line is: When you sell something, you get paid for it,'' said
Mike Monahan, NStar's spokesman. ''We're going to cut them off. That's the
notice. They have to pay. We have done everything we can do to resolve
this.''
If NStar follows through with its threat, shelter officials said they would
effectively be shut down. The lights would go out. Their refrigerators,
where they stock food for about 350 people every day, would lose power. All
the computers would go down. The elevators in the 10-story building off
Government Center, necessary for scores of disabled vets, would stop
running.
''We lose our electric power, the whole place collapses,'' said Jim McIsaac,
the shelter's chief executive and a retired Navy captain. ''Everyone else
has been working with us, but the truth is we're going through very hard
times. We have absolutely no reserves -- we're running on fumes.''
The reason the electric bill has ballooned -- it peaked at $250,000 before
the shelter paid NStar $88,000 three weeks ago -- is the confluence of a
tight budget, rising demand for the shelter, and past mismanagement, McIsaac
said.
Like other shelters throughout Massachusetts, the veterans shelter saw its
state subsidy cut this fiscal year by 15 percent -- or about $450,000 -- to
$2.1 million.
At the same time, with the city's homeless population rising to record
levels, the shelter has seen its capacity swell.
On Thursday night, for example, with state and federal dollars supporting
only 190 beds, the veterans shelter had 361 men and women sleeping on beds
and cots. At one point this winter, for the first time in the shelter's
history, people were forced to sleep on the floor.
Though the refuge is struggling with rising gas and heating bills -- it also
owes about $50,000 for steam -- it's also trying to overcome a management
problem that allowed its electric bill to lapse about five years ago,
McIsaac said. Over several months, the bill grew to more than $100,000, and
with interest compounding since, the shelter hasn't been able to catch up
with its payments.
''We're not totally innocent here,'' said McIsaac, who took over the shelter
two years ago. ''We should have come up with a payment plan and we didn't.
It's a mistake we made.''
Though McIsaac said he never received a call from NStar officials before
receiving notice yesterday, Monahan said his company has repeatedly sought a
payment plan from him over the past three months.
''They continue to owe us a substantial amount of money,'' he said. ''We
serve nursing homes, hospitals, and residences, and we cannot place the
burden of that sum of money on our other customers.''
Officials at the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, which
oversees the shelter and provides it about $180,000 a month to cover
payroll, said they don't have problems with the current administration.
''Every one of our service providers is having a hard time with cash flow,''
said Tom Kelley, the veterans services commissioner. ''The truth is the
people taking care of the veterans in these shelters are angels of mercy,
and they're doing the best job they can, considering the circumstances.''
The shelter owes NStar $162,000, McIsaac said. On Monday, he plans to meet
with the electric company's financial officers, and he hopes they'll cut the
shelter some additional slack.
''Are they really going to shut us down in the middle of the winter?'' he
said. ''If they do, it would be a total social disaster.''

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/1/2003.

 Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.