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Published: Thursday, 10/28/2010

Toledo economic fair provides aid for heat, health, pets

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Figures show the unemployment rate is going down, but it doesn't feel that way to Stan Johnson of West Toledo.

For seven months, the laid-off manufacturing worker has been searching for a job. He gets up early every day, but so far, he's had no results.

With his resources increasingly strained, Mr. Johnson said he fears he won't be able to make the mortgage payments on his house.

"It's like being in an ocean without a life preserver," he said.

So Wednesday, Mr. Johnson, 58, and others in similar straits headed to Toledo's Polish Village to attend an economic information fair at the Zablocki Senior Center.

There, representatives from state and local social service organizations offered information on programs to prevent foreclosure and help people in need pay for utility bills, health care, and housing. It was the second of four scheduled fairs.

"A lot of people need help now," said Walden Wilson, chairman of the Joint Utility Social Service Committee, which organized the event.

For Mr. Johnson, the primary stop was at a table set up by the Ohio Department of Commerce. The table was stacked with leaflets about a new program called "Restoring Stability," which provides cash assistance to unemployed homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments.

Outreach coordinator Stephanie Casey Pierce reviewed the program details with Mr. Johnson and instructed him to apply online.

She said 10,000 Ohioans have applied for the initiative since its launch one month ago. The program - which offers up to $15,000 to struggling homeowners - fills a gap left by traditional loan modification programs that are often no help to the unemployed, she said.

"I think this new program is really going to generate a lot of interest in places like Toledo," Ms. Casey Pierce said, citing the city's unemployment rate, which in September was 11.4 percent.

One of the most popular tables was that of the Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income people pay utility bills, starting Monday. Outreach worker Tiffany Handley said the Economic Opportunity Planning Association, which administers the program, expects more applications for help than last year.

Kevin Browning, 37, of South Toledo said he and his wife are disabled and depend on Social Security payments.

"It's getting more difficult because we're not getting cost-of-living increases, but the price of everything is going up," he said.

Many attending the fair said they were surprised to find out how much help is available. Mr. Browning said he was particularly interested in a low-cost spay/neutering program and pet food bank run by Humane Ohio.

Hollie Derden, 34, a former-business owner from North Toledo, said she attended the event to get information from Lucas County auditor's representatives about reducing her property taxes.

She accomplished that and also bought a programmable thermostat for $5 and got a free shower head as part of an initiative by Columbia Gas.

"It's nice," Ms. Derden said. "More people should have showed up and they'd know what was going on."

The next information fair will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at the South Toledo Branch Public Library, 1736 Broadway.

Another is set for 1 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2 at the East Toledo Family Center, 1020 Varland Ave.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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