You stand in front of the window watching as they jump out of the truck and paint a blue streak of shame on the sidewalk in front of your home. They paint the blue streak so they will remember to come back and turn off your water. The bill is $500.00 and your job brings in $1,000.00 per month. It’s an insurmountable amount, especially considering the City won’t allow you to enter into a payment arrangement. You watch up and down the block, and the workers continue up the road, stopping the truck to paint several more blue streaks. This is Detroit.
The people facing shutoff of water to their homes have had help. Mark Ruffalo joined the protests. The United Nations has come to learn more and make recommendations. There is an action group called the Detroit Water Brigade standing up for citizens’ rights and delivering bottles of water and other help to residents living without water. They’ve stated water is a human right. Pro bono lawyers have converged to file a lawsuit. Lyda,et. al. vs. City of Detroit presented testimony from various Detroiters who told their stories of how the shutoffs have impacted their lives.
Nicole Hill is a mom of three who had run up at $8,000.00 water bill. She stayed in the house and sent her children to live with another relative after their water was disconnected. Her seven-year-old daughter awoke at 2:00 a.m. wanting her mother, so she set off on the streets of Detroit to find her. She was spotted by a neighbor who called police. After speaking to the child, the police brought her to her mother. Her crying child pleaded, “Mommy, don’t make me leave you again.”
Ms. Hill reported her water bills ranged from $27.00 to $689.00 in the months preceding the shutoff. She continued to receive bills for water service while it was shutoff.
The consequences of disconnected water service were more dire for Nicole Cannon, whose testimony was taken September 22, 2014 in an earlier hearing. Ms. Cannon, 44, died of sarcidosis after her water was shut off.
The City of Detroit fell into bankruptcy in 2014, in the largest city bankruptcy in the history of the United States. The City is accused of taking its financial issues out on its poor citizens. Commercial customers, the stadiums for the athletic teams, and schools and civic buildings have remained connected to running water while up to 30,000 households have been shut off. Testimony continues before Congress and in the lawsuit, and the Detroit Water Brigade continues connecting with other human rights organizations to provide access to water for people in Detroit now living without.