- Low-income families in Detroit say they’re still living without water after the city vowed to reconnect services to households with unpaid bills during the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said on Friday that services had been restored for most households in the city.
- Activists say that the city’s estimations are too optimistic and that there are many people who still don’t have access to water.
- The city, activists say, wrongly consider some buildings to be vacant and exempt them from the count.
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Low-income families in Detroit are still facing water cut-offs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, even after government officials vowed to reconnect services for households across the city.
“I have been without water for about six months now,” Akiva Durr, a Detroit mother of two, told the BBC. “This time has been very stressful, but I did make my own sanitizer.”
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) said on Friday that it had restored water to almost every household in the city, following Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to reconnect households during the coronavirus pandemic, whether or not they had unpaid bills.
DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh told Michigan Radio that the department had restored water to 1,121 homes as part of a program that let residents reconnect for $US25. Peckinpaugh said he was aware of fewer than 10 households still without water.
Activists say the city’s estimation of water shutoffs is unreliable and far more people live without water
Activists, however, told Michigan Radio that the $US25 program doesn’t help families living in poverty and that DWSD’s estimation of documented shutoffs and restorations is underrepresented and unreliable.
Justin Onwenu, and organiser with the Michigan Sierra Club, an environmental and social justice group, told Michigan Radio that the numbers didn’t add up.
“Many of the numbers they have provided have contradicted themselves,” Onwenu said. “But those numbers need to also be based on on-the-ground observations of advocates doing the work.”
The city has said that more than 9,000 houses without water were vacant. But activists told Michigan Radio and The Detroit Free Press that it’s difficult to determine whether or not those buildings are truly empty. An investigation from the Detroit Free Press in 2018 showed that many supposedly abandoned houses were actually housing squatters, who lived without heat or water.
One activist said single black mothers are hit hardest by water shutoffs
Reverend Roslyn Bouier, the director of the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry in Detroit, said many people who live with no water usually find ways to access it in other ways: They use toilets at work or at school, and use other means to wash their hands and hydrate.
But with people sheltering in place because of the coronavirus, they have few other options.
“Now because of ‘shelter in place,’ people are confined to their homes with no water so they can’t use the restroom while they are out and about, they have to throw their waste in the garbage,”she told the BBC.
She said the highest proportion of shutoffs is among black women with children.
“I have a client whose water’s off, who has her grandchildren and children with her, a total of 11 people in the home, and the water’s off,” she told the BBC. “She called me to say that her daughter had all the [coronavirus] symptoms so she couldn’t come to collect water but she didn’t want me to drop off water because she was embarrassed that the smell coming from her house was so bad.”
DWSD Director Gary Brown said in a letter dated April 10 that he’s working to get water turned on for everyone.
“DWSD has exercised best efforts to determine which occupied residences within the service area do not have water; that to the best of DWSD’s knowledge and as of the date of this report no occupied residences have their water service shut off due to nonpayment; that DWSD has reconnected water service for all known occupied residences that can be reconnected without creating a risk to public health; and that DWSD has exercised best efforts to remedy the conditions that prevent re-connection due to a risk to public health,” he said.