Demand for help expected to stay high |

Demand for help expected to stay high

Chris Outcalt
Vail, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: The client’s name that appears in this story has been changed at the request of the county to maintain her privacy.

EAGLE COUNTY ” More people are coming through the doors of Eagle County’s Health and Human Services office than have in a long time.

The office had nearly as many walk-in clients in the first eight days of 2009 as it normally does in a month and has doled out $13,000 more in energy assistance money than it did this time last year.

“It’s not like anything we’ve seen before,” said Economic Services Manager Kathy Lyons, who has worked with the county for 18 years. “It’s a lot of people who thought they wouldn’t have had to ask for help.”

But that’s what the services are there for, she said.

“It’s here to help ” that’s why we pay taxes,” Lyons said.

The county offers help for residents with food and energy costs, and other temporary financial assistance through a state-funded program called Colorado Works.

The food assistance program has been one of the most used programs so far this year. Residents can’t make more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level in order to qualify for the program.

More residents have also received money through the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LEAP, program in four months this year than did during the same time period last year.

Last year between November and February the county helped 110 people get $16,000 to help heat their homes. This year during the same period, 226 residents have gotten $29,000 in aid.

Officials expect the spike in demand to continue for a while.

Health and Human Services director Suzanne Vitale requested to add two additional staff member because the offices have been so busy this year. Two clinic assistants were hired with money the department got from a state grant.

It will be the first time the department will have medically trained support personnel ” the middle ground of medically trained people, said Vitale.

Gypsum resident Sara Johnson stopped by the offices last week to try to get help paying rent.

She and her three kids were living with her ex-husband. They moved to the area three years ago because he got a job as a project engineer at The Arrabelle. But he got laid off last week and decided to rent out the house they were living in and move in with his family, leaving Johnson looking for a place to move her and her kids to in the next few months.

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “But I have no choice.”

Johnson, who is originally from Poland, is also dealing with a language barrier. She’s been taking both English speaking and writing classes at Colorado Mountain College.

Lyons said a resident like Johnson may qualify for aid on the Colorado Works program.

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or

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