Englewood man says he's without heat after squatters ran up gas bill

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The extreme cold in Chicago is dangerous even for those who have working heat in their house. One man is struggling to get his heat turned back on in the dire weather. (WLS)

A man in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood said his heat has been off all winter after squatters ran up gas and water bills he can't repay.

Richard Hopkins typically uses his electric stove to boil water, which provides heat for his kitchen. But it's been a challenge since the extreme cold temperatures arrived last week. It's now so cold inside Hopkins' home that the gallons of water he bought to boil on the stove have frozen solid.

"I was able to have the stove here, but it don't do no good when the water freezes up," Hopkins said.

Hopkins has been without heat all winter. He suffered a stroke in the fall and moved in with his mother for several months. During that time he said squatters moved into his house and left him with nearly $5,000 in unpaid gas and water bills. And on a fixed income of social security, he simply can't afford to repay them.

"None of it is of my making, ya know," he said.

Hopkins uses a kerosene heater in the living room, but kerosene is expensive and so he uses that sparingly. He also owns a few spaced heaters, but is careful about using them because they can pose a fire hazard.

"Space heaters. Space heaters are ok to have but, like with anything, you have to use them with caution," said Minnie Tenort of the Chicago Fire Department.

West Side Congressman Danny Davis is trying to get help for residents without heat, and representatives said there is assistance available. But getting that help to people who need it can be difficult.

"It's a tough time, and it's a time when residents of Chicago, and Cook County, and the state need to be pulling together," Davis said.

Hopkins said he is hoping for help, but has no plans to leave his house.

"This is my house," he said.

People's Gas said their account of how Hopkins' gas was cut off differs from his, but said they have reached out to him directly to try to resolve the issue and get his heat reconnected.
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