…..the cost of doing nothing is exceeded by the cost of doing the right thing.
In August of 2003, The Great Blackout extinguished light all across north eastern North America making stars, for the first time, simultaneously visible to the inner city populations of cities across one quarter of the continent.
A shared experience in the dark!
When the sun rose the next day, the power was restored for many, and people’s lives went back to normal. The crisis was over! And with the exception of perhaps those who worked maintaining the electrical grid, and the media rushing to tell stories of bravery, sacrifice and depravity in the dark, people exhaled, and romantically reflected on that night when candles replaced light bulbs and bbqs replaced stoves with something close to a nostalgic air.
As the impact of that shared experience in the dark waned for most, for me, it manifested. The message. The message I had been voicing for 8 yrs, to corporations, utilities, municipalities and even the provincial government, was a message of need and vulnerability that had until then seemed less urgent, less fully understood and less important.
I had spent most of my time attempting to prove to decision makers and funders and donors that there was indeed a problem that needed fixing.
Til then the message that Share the Warmth was a homeless prevention program only resonated with some informed audiences as many of the intentionally obtuse or willfully blind (or so it seemed) actually questioned how the program could be a homeless prevention program when by definition they were already homeless. So how could we prevent it??!!!
Until that day in August of 2003 when everyone, rich, poor, utility executive, elected official, media gatekeeper, the powerful and the influential all gained an understanding of what it was like, even for a little while, to be without power.
Shared experience is a powerful thing indeed. And ironically, shared powerlessness more so.
I resolved not to waste that gift and focused my efforts on not just identifying a problem – the need for emergency energy assistance to prevent rising homelessness in Ontario’s low-income population – but actually advancing solutions and holding decision makers feet to the fire to actually implement them.
Up until the Blackout, Share the Warmth’s message, which had taken me 8 yrs to research and define, was confined to communicating the scope of the problem to many, who often had no idea, so that they understood that something more needed to be done:
The inability to pay utilities is the second leading economic cause of homelessness, after rent, utility costs are the second largest household expense.
Over 50,000 households a year have their power disconnected in Ontario. That means that one household’s power is cut every ten minutes, every hour, every day, 365 days a year.
A family, with minor children, unable to maintain basic electricity can be subject to child services intervention for failing to provide the necessities of life.
Many Ontario households struggle to provide the necessary energy to stay warm and cook meals. Many households must choose between eating and heating.
Seniors and those with special needs must choose between medication and heating.
After the Blackout, everyone now had at least some idea of what it was like to live without power. So I switched from defense to offense. From defining the problem to charting a solution.
Ironically, the Blackout, for me, became a period of deep illumination as the path forward became clearer. The Provincial Government must be persuaded to fund energy poverty initiatives in earnest for the first time in Ontario’s history, not just during emergencies but also to ensure housing stability for low-income households during unprecedented energy price increases.
Instead of leaving it to the utilities to solve the problem of service terminations for the poor in each of their respective service areas in an ad hoc fashion, the provincial government must now be persuaded to enact legislation to protect all Ontarians.
The province needed to make sure that no one sat alone freezing in the dark!
And so a continental crisis led to a provincial solution to a long simmering problem that few identified or took seriously til then. And so began the next steps to change that.
Because after the Blackout of 2003, I was determined to demonstrate to decision makers that the cost of doing nothing is exceeded by the cost of doing the right thing.
Originally posted: Wednesday, 21 August 2013