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Englewood shelter operator scrambling to pay gas bills, heat turned off at one location

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:42AM

Clara Kirk’s office at the West Englewood women’s shelter she operates is full of donated children’s clothes and toys, and stacks of bills.

On Oct. 16, after numerous warnings and meetings, People’s Gas cut the gas to Clara’s Place — one of two buildings owned by Kirk’s charity, the West Englewood United Organization.

The 72-year-old woman is scrambling to pay the gas company $21,026.74 in bills for the building in the 1600 block of West 63rd Street. She also owes about $11,000 to the gas company in bills from a short-term women’s shelter she runs just blocks away. That shelter — 59-beds with 30 current residents — still has heat, for now.

Kirk, a retired Chicago Board of Education employee with no current income, still has no plan. She says she’s worried about the future of her two shelters, one of which is a long-term home to 19 women and 23 children, including its youngest resident, a 4-month-old girl.

After years of success with grant applications — followed by problems with liens from the city and the IRS — Kirk needs help: “We lost our grants and we don’t have money at this time. We need a grant writer. I don’t know how to do this. I need help.”

The timing of the gas outage is unfortunate, as the Chicago area is expected to dip to 29 degrees Thursday night. But People’s Gas says Kirk had many opportunities to set up payment plans, and to file for grants.

Darlene Morman has lived at Sarah’s Place for four months: “There are several children here that would not have anywhere else to go if she don’t get any help soon,” Morman, 53, said.

Another resident, Justine Sanders, 41, has lived at the shelter for 10 years with her now 17-year-old son.

She says it’s helped her learn how to manage money — residents pay for their own electricity and cooking gas.

“It helped me a whole lot to get me on my own two feet,” Sanders said. “Tomorrow I have a job interview. So it’s taught me to do a lot of things.”

Kirk said both her family — five adult children — and her lawyer have told her maybe it’s time to hang up her hat in the charity world, but she says no way.

“I’m not giving up on Englewood. I’ve been here since 1974. I don’t plan on leaving. I don’t plan to go nowhere,” Kirk said. “This is my home. I love it. I raised my children here. My husband died here almost six years ago. I go to church here. I’m here. This is my life. This is what I live for. I don’t want nothing different.”


Twitter: @TinaSfon

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