Margo Jackson and her five children kept their two-bedroom public housing apartment at 1778 Stanton Terl SE warm on Sunday by turning on the gas stove and oven after the furnace had stopped working.
Ruby Brown dressed her four children in their winter coats and huddled with them while the kitchen gas range warmed their apartment in a city-owned building in the 1700 block of 9th Street NW.
Both these families, living in structures maintained by the D.C. government, had to keep warm this weekend by a method that D.C. Fire Department officials have warned can cause fires from overheated stoves.
Freeman Hair, acting deputy administrator of the property management administration of the D.C. goverment, said he had no record of how many persons were left without heat over the weekend, but "there were definitely more complaints this weekend because of the cold," he said.
Hair said there were a number of calls reporting burst water pipes and extinguished pilot lights on gas furnaces. His emergency crews were working around the clock, he said.
For Margo Jackson, this was the sixth time that her furnance had stopped working since November. It breaks down for a variety of reasons, she told a reporter. Although the maintenance crew of the housing project manages to fix it eventually, Jackson and her children are left without a heated apartment for hours or days at a time, she said.
Jackson, who is a part-time student at Antioch College Human Problems, told her classmates in a course called "Human Services in the United States" about her recurring furnance trouble.
They decided to make a class project out of getting Margo Jackson's furnace fixed. "We tried to develop a strategic approach," said the course professor, Al McSurely.
The students wrote letters to City Council members and called officials of the housing and community development office, according to Norma Duffin, one of the students. On one occasion they brought portable heaters to the family until the furnance was repaired.
The student's pressure has not succeeded in getting Jackson's furnace permanently repaired, but they won't give up.
"I don't feel the class is ready to close the subject as long as the family doesn't have heat," said Duffin.
Not only residents in city-run housing have heating problems. Freeman Hair reported that his furnance also went to on the blink yesterday afternoon.