Springfield Register BOSTON -- With skyrocketing heating oil bills this winter, Citizens Bank and Citizens Energy Corporation announced today a partnership to help defray this season’s heating costs at area homeless shelters. Heating costs have increased as much as 40 percent this winter, resulting in budget strains on critical programs and services offered to the homeless at area shelters. The Citizens Bank Foundation will be providing a $175,000 lead gift to the campaign to assist homeless shelters in each state in paying their winter heating bills. In addition, Citizens is opening all its branches throughout New England to collect donations from customers and the general public to accept additional funds. Donations will be accepted at all 467 Citizens Bank branches throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire between now and March 31. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the funds will support Citizens Energy’s Shelter Winter Assistance Program, which provides heating assistance to homeless shelters, enabling them to spend less of their limited resources on energy costs and more on services to homeless families and individual. In Massachusetts, Citizens Bank is also partnering with Massachusetts Community Action Programs (MASSCAP) on this project and has pledged $50,000 toward the effort. MASSCAP will distribute the funds to area homeless shelters. “Citizens Bank is an outstanding corporate citizen that never forgets the needs of the most vulnerable in our society,” said Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II. “Our partnership will help expand the Shelter Winter Assistance Program and make a significant difference in allowing shelters to direct more of their precious resources towards individuals and families in dire need of assistance.” Massachusetts area shelters expect to see a significant increase in heating costs this year over last. The latest numbers on homelessness in Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance’s nightly census, an average of 3,857 homeless adults stayed in state-funded shelters each night in December 2004 -- a figure that does not include homeless families and youth. In the City of Boston alone, an estimated 6,000 people are homeless. Shelters’ increase in demand comes at a time when heating costs are also on the rise. Massachusetts consumers are paying 19% more that they were at this time last year, according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources. Given that the average Massachusetts consumer uses about 850 gallons of heating oil, they will be asked to pay nearly $1,700 to keep their homes warm this winter after paying around $1,200 the previous two winters. “For more than a decade, Citizens Energy has led the way in addressing the energy needs of those less fortunate in our region,” said Robert Smyth, President and CEO of Citizens Bank of Massachusetts. “Citizens Bank is proud to partner with Citizens Energy to help cover the additional funds needed this year by New England’s homeless shelters, and we encourage all those who wish to contribute to stop by any Citizens Bank branch. Together, we can ensure our shelters are able to continue providing services to those who need them most.” “We welcome the opportunity to join with Citizens Bank and Citizens Energy, to our innovative partners, in the fight to meet the needs of those who need our help the most in Massachusetts. Citizens Bank Foundations’ donation will ensure warm shelters in our communities and help stabilize the lives of thousands of vulnerable individuals and families,” said Joe Diamond, Executive Director of MASSCAP. “Community action agencies work closely with shelters across Massachusetts to foster self-sufficiency among low-income, working, and vulnerable people across the state.” Citizens Bank of Massachusetts is a $30 billion bank with more than 270 branch offices and 640 ATMs stretching from greater Boston to Cape Cod and the Berkshires. It is headquartered at 28 State Street in Boston and has regional administration centers in Quincy, Hyannis, Woburn and Wakefield. It has more than 3,800 employees.