Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor
I have been watching the water crisis in Detroit for some time now and I have been amazed that it is not a bigger story. If you haven’t heard, the new city Administrator of the City of Detroit that was appointed by the Governor and his Water Department have been turning off the water of needy citizens in Detroit when their past due bills are as little as $150.00. In a city with over 20% unemployment and countless vacant buildings, it seems like Detroit is slowly being destroyed.
“It may not have been a police crackdown, but what she witnessed was definitely a crackdown of a sort. Since last year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been turning off water at the homes of customers behind on their bills. The shut-off campaign comes at a time of crisis and hastened recovery for Detroit, which became the largest American city to ever file for bankruptcy last summer. The value of the bonds associated with the water department’s debt comes to $5.7 billion, which constitutes almost one-third of the amount estimated to have pushed Detroit into bankruptcy.
The campaign to crack down on overdue bills—which is aimed at customers who are more than two months behind on their bills or who owe more than $150—has been described by activists and scholars alike as an effort, pushed by the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, to get rid of the bad debt associated with the water department and prep the public entity for privatization.
In a city where the median household income is less than half the national average, 38 percent of residents live below the poverty line and 23 percent are unemployed, it comes as no surprise that at least 40 percent of customers are delinquent on their bills.
The water shut-offs have taken no prisoners. Since this year’s shut-offs started at the end of March, at least 15,000 Detroit households have had their water turned off. But the campaign, a tactic designed to pressure Detroiters into paying their water bills, began with little or no publicity last year, when 24,000 homes had their water shut off, says Darryl Latimer, the deputy director of the water department.” The Atlantic
Since last year, over 34,000 homes have had their water shut off by the City of Detroit and hardly anyone outside of Michigan has noticed. While I am sure that there are some real scofflaws in some of those 34,000 homes, many more are behind in their water payments because they are already strapped for financial resources. When you see the number of unemployed and the statistic that 38 percent of Detroit residents live below the poverty line, it seems clear that a large percentage of the home shut off from an essential human need, do not have the ability to pay.
Should any city be allowed to cut off water to needy residents for any amount? With the shenanigans that went on to get Detroit into bankruptcy, I guess I should not be surprised at the idea that an essential human need can be denied American citizens over such small amounts of money. Is there any hope for the up to 100,000 citizens impacted by the water shut-off?
Lately some of the citizens of Detroit have been hitting the streets to demonstrate against the cutoffs and some have even resorted to illegally turning the water back on. However, many are trying not to make waves because they fear repercussions if government agencies find out that their water service has been cut off.
“Residents targeted by the shut-off campaign have been reluctant to speak up. Some have stayed quiet because they’ve resorted to illegally hiring plumbers, and others—who are without water and relying on neighbors and friends for drinking water and showers—are afraid child-protective services may intervene, as a lack of running water is grounds for social services to immediately take children out of parents’ care.
Even those without children remain reticent. Some feel tarred by a general notion of shame and culpability for not being able to meet such a bare necessity as water. Last week, a headline in one of the local newspapers, The Detroit News, described delinquent customers as “water scofflaws.”
This stigma is enhanced by the painting of blue lines in front of those houses that have just had their water turned off—lines painted by Homrich’s employees after a job is completed. Streets to the south of Roslyn Walker’s home showed blue line after blue line; among non-vacant houses, shut-off water was the norm.
Monica Lewis-Patrick, a community organizer who has been going door to door with fellow activists in order to raise awareness and distribute water, says she has come across old-age pensioners who—not knowing where to turn after their taps were closed off—have gone without running water for almost a year.” The Atlantic
One of the organizers of the most recent demonstration against the water cutoffs was the National Nurses United. This organization went on the record to decry these shut-offs.
“The union National Nurses United (NNU) was one of the national groups involved in organizing the rally. Nurses from the group told msnbc that the water shut-offs, which have thus far directly affected thousands of residents, present a direct threat to public health.
“Water is one of the most basic human needs that we all require,” said NNU official Bonnie Castillo. “And we know that it will result in a public health emergency. Not only for individual health, but community health, in terms of infectious diseases. Individuals can only live without water for a couple of days.” ‘ Crooks and Liars
Should the water be turned off for any resident, of any city or town in the United States because the resident does not have the financial resources to pay for water? I was taught by the good Benedictine Sisters that it was mandatory to take care of the poor. When American city governments start painting lines to delineate who is paying and who is not paying their water bills, have they gone too far?
How can we consider ourselves a great nation, when we treat all of the poor as scofflaws or lazy? Does Kevyn Orr, the Emergency Manager of the City of Detroit have no shame?
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