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Donations pour in to vets shelter

By David Abel, Globe Staff, 2/2/2003

Scores of state residents, from Governor Mitt Romney to several homeless people, pledged thousands of dollars yesterday in an effort to ensure the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans isn't forced to shut down later this week.

On Friday, officials at NStar, the region's largest electric utility, told the Boston shelter they planned to cut off the electricity on Wednesday if it didn't pay its bill. With interest that has mounted over the past few years, the shelter still owes the company about $190,000.

The shelter yesterday received hundreds of calls and pledges worth about $60,000, including a personal check from Romney for $10,000, officials said.

''I can't say enough about the outpouring of support from the citizens of the Commonwealth,'' said Jim McIsaac, the shelter's chief executive. ''They're rising up and,I hope, saving us.''

But NStar officials yesterday said they aren't backing down. Though they intend to meet shelter officials tomorrow, they will not grant any more delays on payment of a debt that had at one point had reached nearly $280,000. The goal of their meeting, they said, is to set up a payment plan.

''We don't want to shut them off,'' said Mike Monahan, NStar's spokesman, ''but if they don't take care of the balance of their bill, they will be subject to having their service disrupted.''

If NStar follows through with its threat, the shelter would effectively shut down. Cutting the electricity would not only shut off the lights, it would turn off the refrigerators, where food is stocked for about 350 people every day. Computers would go down, and the downtown building's elevators, needed by scores of disabled vets, would stop running.

The electric bill - reduced last month when the shelter paid NStar $88,000 - has been neglected because of everything from a tight budget and rising demand for shelter to past mismanagement, McIsaac said.

Like other shelters, the veterans shelter on Court Street near Government Center saw its state subsidy cut this fiscal year by 15 percent, to $2.1 million. At the same time, with the city's homeless ranks rising to record levels, the shelter has seen its population surge.

Adding to the pressure, McIsaac said he received a heating bill yesterday for $43,000, nearly twice the usual amount.

In a phone interview, Romney, who helped serve breakfast at the shelter on the morning of his inauguration, said he and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healy - who also plans to write a check - felt a ''special responsibility'' to help.

''You can't solve all the problems of the world as an individual, but when you know the people, you hope you can make a difference,'' Romney said.

The governor said he began making calls yesterday to potential donors and he hopes his contribution will prompt others to give.

Others vowed to help yesterday, as well. Several residents pledged donations of $5,000 each, shelter officials said, and one company, United Liquor Limited, promised $16,200.

At a meeting McIsaac held with hundreds of homeless veterans yesterday - at which residents seemed more ''scared than angry,'' he said - one man offered the shelter $600 he had saved up to pay for an apartment, and a disabled vet said he would give a check for $36,000, money he recently won in a settlement from a lawsuit against the government. ''Obviously, we're not going to take that money,'' McIsaac said.

But McIsaac, the former captain of a Navy destroyer who said he didn't sleep the night before for fear the shelter might close, added he'll gladly accept donations from those who can afford them.

One solution he is considering to keep the shelter open is renting a tractor-trailer with an electrical generator in it.

''Anything helps right now,'' he said. ''It would be an absolute outrage if this place had to shut down.''

David Abel can be reached at mailto:%20dabel@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/2/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.