By We the People of Detroit

The coronavirus pandemic has brought an already questionable policy front and center

As the coronavirus ravages the City of Detroit, The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has not done its residents any favors. In 2014, the city of Detroit began, shutting off the water to residential customers for non-payment. Since this policy began, DWSD has shut off water to more than 150,000 Detroiters. In 2019 alone, the city shut off over 23,000 residents.

The numbers vary, but at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,  (March 2020), there were an estimated 2,800 to 10,000 homes still without running water. On March 28, 2020 Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an Executive Order stating that local water authorities must restore water to all occupied homes where it was previously shut off for any reason, including non-payment. By the end of April, the DWSD announced that all occupied homes had its water restored. The reported numbers do not align with what activists are seeing as they work on the front lines, assisting families, and allocating resources. Since the Coronavirus pandemic began, We The People of Detroit has provided more than 2,000 families per month with emergency water, because they do not have access to running water in their homes. At best, the numbers reported are unreliable. At worse, they are extremely misleading.

COVID-19 has hit the African American community especially hard. While African Americans make up about 14% of the population in Michigan, they make up 40% of the deaths; with the city of Detroit and Wayne county unevenly represented. Michigan is one of the handful of states that have over 40,000 reported deaths. This revelation comes as no surprise to water justice advocates, as Detroit has one of the most aggressive water shut off policies in the nation. Water shutoffs presents a myriad of problems. The need for general cleanliness and proper hygiene is even more imperative, as the number-one defense against Coronavirus is to wash your hands, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

As the temperatures start to climb and we all hold our collective breaths for a potential second spike of COVID-19 cases and deaths, once more businesses reopen, everyone needs running water. The issue of Detroit residents not having access to running water did not start with the Coronavirus. Still, the hope is that the rapid proliferation of this disease in Detroit will force city and state officials to rethink water shut off policies. Water is not only a human right; it is a human need. We all need it to live, and we need it to survive, especially in situations of crisis like the one we are currently living through.

We the People of Detroit is dedicated to community coalition building and to the provision of resources that inform, train and mobilize the citizens of Detroit and beyond to improve their quality of life.