Mary Chandler At the age of 53, Mary’s life was shrouded in darkness. As a result of multiple strokes, she had become cognitively impaired and struggled with verbal communication. “Now, I struggle to talk and even to walk. I can no longer drive,” she explains. The strokes ultimately led to Mary losing her job, and she started to receive only $733 each month in Supplemental Security Income. Her reduction in function and income proved devastating. From 2011 through the Spring of 2015, Mary was homeless and living in the YWCA Griswold Center in Columbus, a temporary housing program for adult women experiencing homelessness.

In June of 2015, she was finally able to move into her own apartment with the assistance of a Section 8 subsidized housing voucher. She was thrilled to escape the noise and unrest at the Y and finally have some space of her own. Unfortunately, darkness persisted and she was unable to have the electricity turned on in her new apartment because of an old utility bill. Mary had been enrolled in a utility-assistance program in her old apartment before 2011 and during that time, she had accrued considerable utility debt. The electric company was unwilling to turn on her electricity until she paid over $2000 towards the debt in a lump sum payment. But with minimal income and no familial support system, she was unable to do so.

Mary lived in her new apartment for a full 30 days throughout July without any electricity or air conditioning. She recalls, “I had to light candles. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what was going to happen.” Mary’s troubles worsened because a condition of her subsidized housing arrangement was that her utilities were turned on and uninterrupted, so her landlord began threatening eviction. With the assistance of her social services aid, Mary approached the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) for help. LASC bankruptcy attorney Melissa Linville filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on her behalf. The automatic stay triggered the utility company to turn the electricity back on, and she was able to negotiate with her landlord to avoid an eviction.

Melissa comments on the important role Bankruptcy plays in the lives of her clients: “Filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is a vital tool for our clients to help prevent homelessness and ensure future stability. Mary was out of options and desperately needed the relief the automatic stay provided. As a single woman with a disability, living alone on the east side of Columbus, she was filled with relief and gratitude when her electricity was restored.”

“If it wasn’t for Legal Aid, I would still be in the dark. I would still be scared,” she explains. But now, Mary enjoys the privacy and security of her own apartment with the added advantage of full utilities. She now has the “fresh start” that she has sought for the past four years, and she can finally face a brighter future.

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