Monday, December 20, 2010
Help Me Howard: No Water
Imagine living in your home without water. Not for a day or a week: try three years. In most cases, people have fallen behind on their water bills. One woman can now afford the monthly bill, but can't afford all the interest and penalties the county slapped on her when she was down on her luck. So can the government wipe out interest and penalties? Let's bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- If you know anyone who is Irish, you know one thing about them.
Gayle Sullivan: "I just tell you, being Irish, we have the gift of the gab."
Gayle is Irish and loves to talk, except about herself.
Gayle Sullivan: "It's been a struggle over the last several years."
Life was good for Gayle. She owned a home in Lighthouse Point that she had paid off, had a nice teaching job, then tragedy struck her brother.
Gayle Sullivan: "He had a brain aneurysm, five surgeries, two strokes at the age of 40."
Gayle quit her job to take care of him. Then, her mother got sick. Gayle helped take care of her till she died. Then it was her sister.
Gayle Sullivan: "And three years later, my sister died at 42 of the same brain aneurysm that my brother had."
Gayle spent everything she had trying to rehabilitate her brother. Money was tight. By 2007, she could no longer pay the water bill.
That was three years ago, and for three years, Gayle has lived in her Lighthouse Point home without running water.
Patrick Fraser: "What's it like to live without water to bathe for three years?"
Gayle Sullivan: "It's misery and suffering. It's hardship."
But Gayle has survived. She buys bottled water to drink. If that runs out, she goes to her yard, where she collects rain in garbage cans and barrels.
Gayle Sullivan: "You can actually, if you leave it in the sun long enough, purify it to be able to drink it."
Friends let her shower or use the restroom at their home, but her water bill, which also includes the garbage fees, has piled up. Today, it totals $3,272, a third of it is interest. And even though the water has been off for three years, Broward County still charges her for water.
Patrick Fraser: "So they are charging you for water even though you don't get water?"
Gayle Sullivan: "Yes. Absolutely so."
But there is another thing about those Irish. They are proud, and Gayle is too ashamed to admit she needs help.
Paula Vickers, Second Chance Society: "I think she has gotten so used to living like this."
Then Paula Vickers with the Second Chance Society found out about the lady in Lighthouse Point who was living without running water for three years.
Paula has gotten a commitment from five different churches and agencies for nearly $2,000. The bill could be paid if, and it's a big if, if Broward County Water will waive the $1,300 in interest and penalties they had tacked on.
Patrick Fraser: "All these agencies have stepped forward. You need the county to step forward."
Paula Vickers: "Exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely."
If the county waived all the $1,300 in interest and penalties, Gayle would be able to drink from her faucet, not to have to use rain water to wash her dishes, clothes and herself.
Patrick Fraser: "When you were teaching a few years ago, did you ever think you would be in a spot like this?"
Gayle Sullivan: "God no. No, not at all. Those were actually the glory years."
Well Howard, the county will collect $2,000 if they waive the $1,300 dollars in interest and penalties. Legally, can a government agency make a generous, kind-hearted gesture?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Many government agencies like Broward cannot give water away. However, they can cut or waive late fees, interest or penalties for late payment. So in this case, Broward can wipe out the $1,300 in interest if they want to."
But they won't wipe it out.
When we spoke to Broward County Water, Ken Wilson told us he couldn't eliminate the late fees for Gayle, because then, he would have to do it for everyone else.
However, he offered a solution, that if Paula's Second Chance Society could pay the $2,000 they have raised, the county would be willing to turn Gayle's water back on and let her pay the $1,300 in interest over the next three years.
The county would freeze the interest so Gayle would owe about $36 a month plus the regular monthly garbage and water fees.
Gayle Sullivan: "I just don't want to see anybody else suffer like I have suffered."
But finding out Broward could wipe out the interest for her but won't disappointed Gayle. She said she will think about the payment plan.
Paula, on the other hand, is not waiting. She says she is going to try to raise the $1,300 to pay off the interest, determined to make sure that Gayle starts the new year with cold, clean, running water.
Paula Vickers: "I am not going to stop till her water is turned on."
Patrick Fraser: "Paula is a special lady. If you want to help Second Chance Society raise the money to get Gayle's water turned back on, call them at 954-763-5999."
Ideas for solving your problems drying up? Ready to get some solutions flowing? Contact us. We'll tap into the law books and hopefully flood you with advice.
Second Chance Society