CLEVELAND — Ohio citizens groups are demanding the City of Cleveland be more aggressive in its approach in offering reconnection of water and electric service, as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.
The End Poverty Now Coalition said it's pleased the city placed a moratorium on utility shut-offs on March 13, but believes the city needs to do more in letting residents know they can have utilities restored by making a phone call.
End Poverty Now coordinator Larry Bresler told News 5 only 59 residents called the city to have utilities restored, in the first two weeks after shut-offs were stopped.
Bresler said there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of residents who are living without water and electricity during the pandemic, who aren't aware service can be temporarily restored, but because they don't have internet service or even power to charge their phones they don't make the call.
“It’s terribly dire, just think in a time when we’re having a pandemic and people don’t have access to power,” Bresler said.
“Not to have water, basic water and more importantly power, can clearly make this a more difficult problem for people.
“Most people are not even going to be aware that this is even available to them, if they don’t have powers how are they going to know, where will they have heard about this?”
“And so there is a great need for there to be outreach by both Cleveland Public Power and the water department, otherwise it’s just a hollow gesture."
Rachael Belz, Executive Director for Ohio Citizen Action told News 5 the coalition has started a petition drive, calling on the city to more aggressively let citizens know they can have service temporarily restored.
Belz said the growing financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 crisis is going to have even more residents get behind on paying their utility bills.
"How do they even find out that’s what they’re supposed to do,” Belz said.
"Even sending a postcard or making a phone call or at least try to make a phone call and leave a message.”
"To expect that people who haven’t had power and had it turned off before March 13, are going to suddenly in a pandemic to have power to charge their phones to make a call, if they even know that’s what they’re supposed to do."
“There are more an more people who are going to fall in this category because nobody know what’s going to happen next.”
News 5 contacted the City of Cleveland about this issue and it issued the following response to our story:
"We have, and will continue to, reconnect all customers who contact us and can meet us at the property."
"A responsible party on site helps ensure appropriate infrastructure and safety precautions to minimize the possibility of harm to personage and property.
"Water re-connections also require operable plumbing, no property-side service leaks, and someone at home to properly flush the lines. To automatically reconnect all parcels of land would have long term and substantial negative consequences on our customers and our utilities.
The City of Cleveland Department of Public Utilities makes every effort to inform our customers of the above outlined policies. We have utilized frequent press releases, social media, bill inserts, and often work with our local media partners.
We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and remain committed to our customers and the delivery of quality service. We are here to help and encourage all customers with questions or concerns to contact Cleveland Water at 216.664.3130 or Cleveland Public Power at 216.664.4600."
Meanwhile, Bresler is hoping the city will also give customers a grace period to get back on track with their utilities bills once the pandemic lock-down is over.
"It’s also important that they delay turning these people off, and other people off, for at least 60 days, because people are going to have a hard time catching up on their bill once this crisis is over,” Bresler said.