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Niles father and daughter sought help with furnace before deaths

NILES, Mich. - The Ferry Street Resource Center confirms that the Niles father and daughter who were found dead in their freezing cold home visited their facility a week before they died asking for help with their furnace.

81-year-old Albert Bivins and his 55-year-old daughter Patricia Bivins were found dead in their home on January 4, with temperatures well below 32 degrees.

Now, the executive director of the Ferry Street Resource Center is sharing that the pair sought out help from the week before they died.

“They were telling us that their furnace was not working well. We advised them that that’s what they needed to do, get three estimates, and with those three estimates, they could apply for assistance with DHHS," said Greg Nasstrom, the executive director.

Nasstrom says Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services requires three estimates from local contractors as part of the application for a new or repaired furnace.

The executive director for the center, in essence, said for people in a crisis, like being without a working furnace in below-freezing temperatures, Niles is lacking an immediate solution.

"This situation with this family, it was never followed through, it was never done as far as I’m aware, and the tragic consequences are the result of that," said Nasstrom.

Even if the Bivens had followed through, the center says DHHS on average takes seven to ten business days to come back with an answer--not with the help itself--and this would qualify as an emergency application.

“The real problem is that we need somewhere for people to go in Niles when they don’t have heat in their home or when they don’t have a home. Niles needs a homeless shelter," said Nasstrom.

ABC 57 reached out to Mayor Nick Shelton and city council members to discuss resources the city of Niles provides.

The Niles City Administrator sent the following statement:

    The City of Niles is incredibly saddened by the passing of Albert Bivins and Patricia Bivens from the apparent exposure to low     temperatures within their home. The Niles City Police investigation into this incident is still ongoing. At this time the police are waiting on     a toxicology report, which is expected to confirm the cause of death.

    The City of Niles takes winter conditions very seriously and has a     program in place to maintain municipal services to homes     throughout the winter months for people 65 years old or older,anyone requiring  life support services, and for veterans -- no matter their     current ability to payfor these services. The City’s Utility Department, located on  the first floor of City Hall, is also able to provide contact     and referral information to anyone needing additional assistance that is not offered by the City of Niles. Some of those resources in our     community are the Ferry StreetResource Center, the Salvation Army, The Connection: Berrien County’s Emergency Shelter Services,          the Center for the Homeless, Hope Rescue Mission, the Community Action Agency,the Council on Aging, and our local Senior Centers.

    It saddens all of us at the City of Niles to think that the Bivens Family may not have known that help was available to them. We live in a     very caring community and there are many individuals and organizations who would have ensured the safety of this father and daughter.     We urge those who may be in similar situations to please contact one of the independent resources listed above.

Other Resources:

http://www.smcaa.com/

https://www.emergencyshelterservices.org/

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