Cold snap drains oil tanks
Dartmouth family sleeps in car to stay warm
The recent cold snap in Nova Scotia is rapidly draining domestic oil tanks, leaving some people reliant on charitable programs to stay warm.
The Salvation Army's Good Neighbour program helps people who run out of oil, but cannot afford to refill the tank. It started the year with $625,000 in the bank and has spent 30 per cent of that. It expects to run out before the winter ends.
One Dartmouth couple ran out of fuel on Thursday and were unable to find help.
Sonia McQueen said she and her husband cannot afford to refill their oil tank. As the temperatures plummeted overnight, they took turns sleeping in their car to warm up.
"My husband would go out and he'd stay for an hour or so and then he would come in and then I would go out. But we decided we couldn't do that because that cost gas," she said Monday.
The Salvation Army's Good Neighbour program helps individuals and families who have run out of oil.
It requires that oil be the home's main heating source.
It used to be a one-time only deal, but is now offered once every two years.
The charity says that allows it to help more people in crisis, as limited resources means it cannot help every year.
It helps about 1,400 families each winter.
The couple gets by on disability pension. Their oil tank is still empty and so they are relying on turning up the oven, microwaving heat pads and bundling up.
"[Minus] ten degrees is pretty cold. You need mittens and a hat. My husband wore his hat, I wore my coat and my mittens, long underwear, with pajama bottoms or lounging pants," she said.
McQueen applied to the Good Neighbour program for help, but was turned away because she had received help last year.
The program's limited resources mean it can't help everyone who applies. It limits help to once every 24 months per family to spread resources.
"Which I think is a little bit ridiculous. Once a year I could see it, but every two years? Sometimes people run into problems and they need the help, and they're not there," she said.
The Good Neighbour program runs from Jan. 1 to April 30. The provincial government contributed $400,000 this year and Nova Scotia Power put in $100,000. The charity had $126,000 leftover from previous winters.
With furnace oil at $1.15 per litre, demand for help is higher than usual.
Tough at Parker Street, too
Mel Boutilier, executive director at Parker Street, said he has a binder full of names of people who turn to him for help.
"I've had more people call me this winter telling me that they've gone to the Salvation Army and are asking for help and they're turned away," he said.
Parker Street can provide some help to people struggling with bills.