City Residents Turned to 211 for Help with Utility Bills

United Way’s Care Coordinators put residents' minds at ease.
August 25, 2023
Bill, Deboragh and Contrina
The United Way 211 Helpline aided Bill, Deboragh and Contrina with accessing funds available through a contract with the city of Cincinnati. (John Johnston / United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2023)

CINCINNATI (Aug. 25, 2023) — Bill is a widower and lives on a fixed income. Deboragh was a victim of a scammer. Patrick lost the use of his legs and relies on disability checks. Contrina hasn't worked since surgery in April.

Their stories are different, but Bill, Deboragh, Patrick and Contrina have something in common. They are among scores of Cincinnati residents who this summer called 211 — the United Way Helpline — specifically to get help paying utility bills.

United Way's Care Coordination team disbursed funds that were available through a contract with the city of Cincinnati. It allocated $415,313 in fiscal year 2023 to help people struggling to pay utility bills. The effort focused on Cincinnati residents whose income is less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

Care Coordinators quickly ensured Bill, Deboragh, Patrick and Contrina were current on their utility bills.


The 70-year-old widower lives in Cincinnati's Westwood neighborhood. He's a former body shop manager who retired years ago after a heart attack and open-heart surgery.

In early August, he was wincing in pain after knee replacement surgery. Living on a fixed income, he also was feeling the pinch of higher prices. Despite being on a budget billing plan, utility costs "have just become ridiculous," he said.

As the bills to heat and cool his home rose, "I paid what I could," he said. "They kept mounting. I tried to seek help from different organizations. One of them told me to call 211, United Way. So, I did.

"United Way pulled me out of a bind that I could not even imagine was possible," Bill said. "It took only a few days. That's just been a godsend."


When her car needed major repairs, the 67-year-old Pleasant Ridge resident tried to borrow funds from an online lender. Then her bank discovered the lender was a scammer, and Deboragh's account was frozen. About that time, Deboragh's utility company said she owed a substantial sum because of billing errors.

"I was trying to put out so many fires," said Deboragh, a substitute teacher who recently accepted a job in social work. "I felt defeated."

She called 211 and spoke to a Care Coordinator who promised immediate help with the utility bills.

"211 saved my life," Deboragh said. "It was wonderful beyond my imagination. Families need to know about 211."


After years in physically demanding jobs, the 52-year-old now has little use of his legs. He relies on disability benefits. He said he felt overwhelmed when he received a disconnection notice from his utility company.

A person at the utility company recommended Patrick call 211.

"I've heard about United Way. I've never had to use it," Patrick said. The Care Coordinator he spoke to "was so helpful. She took care of it really quick. It really relieved a lot of stress for me.

"Everything's back on track now. I really appreciate what you've done for me."


The 57-year-old Bond Hill resident hasn't had much to smile about recently. About a year ago, her boyfriend of more than 20 years passed away. This year, Contrina injured a toe during an epileptic seizure. She was prescribed pain pills and continued to work, but her toe's condition worsened, and it had to be amputated.

She hasn't been able to work since April.

"Those things happen, but bills still come," she said. When she was unable to pay her utility company, she called 211.

The Care Coordinator "was so sweet — from the beginning of the call until we hung up the phone. He made it clear they would be able to help me. It was such a relief.

"It put a smile on my face."

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