Reality of ALICE households: Cold weather tragedy costs three lives

Yesterday morning, the Pensacola Fire Department responded to 1217 North 6th Avenue as the result of a 911 call. Four victims of carbon monoxide poisoning were found inside the home, including one adult male, one adult female, and two male children. The family had used a propane heater to heat in the home.

The adult female and one of the children were deceased, and the adult male was given medical life support and transported to Sacred Heart Hospital, where he died. The remaining child was also given medical life support and transported to Sacred Heart, where he is currently recovering. The deaths are believed to be the result of an unventilated propane-fueled heating unit that was in use in the home.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward issued a statement asking residents in financial need to ask for help from United Way.

“I am heartbroken to learn of the deaths last night of a family which was just trying to stay warm,” said Mayor Hayward. “As mayor, I want to urge Pensacola families not to resort to the use of unventilated propane heaters or other unsafe heating methods. Pensacola is an incredibly giving community, and families which need help paying their utility bills should call United Way by dialing 2-1-1. These deaths are a tragic reminder that there are still many in our community who struggle, and who need our help.”

In the press release, the city warned of the dangers of carbon monoxide gas, which is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating. When inhaled, carbon monoxide combines with the blood and prevents it from absorbing oxygen. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, vomiting, nausea, and fatigue, with more serious symptoms accompanying more severe exposures. For more information about carbon monoxide and natural gas safety, visit

At last night’s county commission meeting, Commissioner Lumon May sent out his condolences to the Sunday family and pledged to personally do more to help families who are struggling. He cited the statistics from the recent United Way report on the large number of ALICE households in Escambia County (those families working, but unable to make ends meet) to bring across the need to do more.

Nathan Monk, organizer of the Community Cold Night Shelter, also issued a statement this morning:

I am heart broken at the news yesterday that due to inadequate heat, Escambia County experienced a tragic loss of three lives. Every year, families living in poverty use improper mechanisms such as open fires, candles, and stoves to heat their homes.

Whether it is due to the inability to pay utilities or that the homes do not have working heat, it is unacceptable that families are losing their homes or lives in an attempt to stay warm. There are also those who are living outside in tents and cars that are suffering due to the extreme cold that has already effected our community so early in the season.

It is for this reason that we have opened a community cold night shelter, not just for the homeless, but those who are living in poverty. We welcome single women and families of any kind. The shelter is open any time the wind chill is expected to be 40° or below. From now on, I will be issuing a media release at the beginning of each week with our projected open dates, and I encourage everyone to do everything in their power to make families aware of this opportunity to have a safe and warm place to be during the winter.

We will be holding our second volunteer orientation tomorrow, Saturday December the 13th at 3:00PM. Those wishing to volunteer are required to attend an orientation meeting. We need help with overnight shifts, food preparation, and intake.

The Community Cold Night Shelter is located in the multi-purpose building directly to the left of Greater True Vine Church 130 N. Pace Blvd next to Gregory St. For questions or assistance please contact Nathan Monk at 850-454-9910.

Editor’s Note: In early October, the Pensacola City Council heard a presentation from its human services consultant that recommended the city address the lack of shelters from the cold for women and children in the city of Pensacola.

Unfortunately, the city has not acted on that report. Instead a boat house at the Port was on agenda, not shelters.

We are thankful that Nathan Monk hasn’t waited for city government–both mayor and council–to act.

Inaction has consequences, sometimes fatal ones.