Gas Company Keeps Hub Homeless Warm

Less than 12 hours after the Bronx Bombers sank the hopes of Red Sox Nation, a Brooklyn native came to the Hub to hit a home run for the homeless.

Standing in front of a South End shelter last Friday, KeySpan chairman Robert B. “Bob” Catell assured his Boston friends he’d been rooting for the Red Sox the night before.

“My beloved Brooklyn Dodgers moved away long ago,” said Catell. “I’m now a Mets fan, so I really wanted Boston to win.”

More importantly, Catell was in town to announce over $300,000 in energy efficiency upgrades to 59 shelters throughout Eastern Massachusetts, almost half of them in the inner city. The total value of the improvements amounts to over $1 million in lifetime energy savings, allowing shelters to use their funds to provide other basic services.

The energy improvements financed with the help of the New York-based gas utility include close to $20,000 worth of new windows, doors, and heating equipment in the Boston Family Shelter, which houses 10 families in its Massachusetts Avenue rowhouse.

“The good news is that shelters across the region are embracing the efficiency message,” said Catell. “Winter is just around the corner. We don’t have a crystal ball on what the weather will bring or what the energy prices will be, but thanks to the foresight of shelter administrators, we are in a better position to serve their needs.”

State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Roxbury) said KeySpan’s commitment came as good news at a time of grim reports from the front lines of homeless services, which have suffered severe budget cuts at a time of rising demand for shelter beds.

“It’s easy to forget on a beautiful day like this,” said Wilkerson, speaking on the sun-dappled stoop of the brick bowfront, “but less than a year ago we had the first snowstorm of the winter.

“It was late October when that storm hit. In the midst of that, a woman wandered into a Roxbury garage and froze to death. When the weather gets cold, we know that the poor and the vulnerable suffer the most, so we’re happy to see KeySpan stepping forward to help shelters stretch their resources to serve those in need.”

Wilkerson also thanked Citizens Energy Corporation, headed by former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, for initiating the KeySpan shelter program, which has also helped the Roxbury Family Shelter, the Pine Street Inn, and the Salvation Army’s Harborlight Shelter on Shawmut Avenue.

Kennedy said he asked KeySpan two years ago to provide energy audits and upgrades to shelters receiving aid through the Citizens Energy Shelter Winter Assistance Program, which helps cover the winter heating costs of 160 emergency shelters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“It just doesn’t make sense to provide energy assistance to see it disappear through leaky doors, windows and roofs, or get wasted in inefficient heating and hot-water systems,” said Kennedy, chairman of the Boston-based non-profit.

Citizens Energy ties to Catell date back 25 years, said Kennedy, citing the utility executive’s willingness to buck industry resistance and become the first to contract with the non-profit to provide cheap gas to Brooklyn Gas customers.

“Bob Catell and KeySpan have a long record of innovation and standing up to the plate to help those in need,” said Kennedy.

As young residents of the family shelter shyly peered through the shelter’s soaring front doorway, Kennedy and Catell held up a double-paned, energy-efficient window, which framed the gaggle of elected officials, shelter administrators, and energy honchos behind them.

“We very much appreciate these energy improvements,” said Sheree Marinelli, active executive director of Shelter, Inc., which runs the Boston Family Shelter along with two other shelters san four permanent housing sites and supportive services. “They allow us to stretch our precious resources even further.”