Detroiters’ Fight for Affordable Water Access Has Lessons for America’s Future

An article entitled “Detroiters’ Fight for Affordable Water Access Has Lessons for America’s Future” by our own Monica Lewis Patrick has been published in the April 2017 issue of River Voices: Water Equity and Civic Engagement. Read our article and download the full issue of River Voices here. The article begins on page 7.

Monica Lewis-Patrick and other water warriors and volunteers, wearing bright yellow reflective vests and surrounding a table full of clipboards, canvassing on the streets of Detroit.

About this River Voices issue:
“We believe that access to affordable clean water and healthy rivers is a fundamental human right. Like other human rights, we must be prepared to assert and defend this right. By listening, we can hear the concerns of the communities we are part of; and by working together, we can influence elected officials and resource managers to address these disparities. The articles in this issue of River Voices provide examples of places where access to affordable clean water is not equal, and how civic engagement is making a difference. These articles underscore the variety of ways to become involved, including seeking public office. We hope that this issue sparks your curiosity and encourages you to continue exploring. Water is life.”

Quests for Justice and Mechanisms of Suppression in Flint, Michigan

Rebecca L. Rutt and Jevgeniy Bluwstein have published a research paper entitled “Quests for Justice and Mechanisms of Suppression in Flint, Michigan”. The abstract is below. READ FULL PAPER

“There is widespread acknowledgment of the crisis nature and injustices around water quality and access in Flint since mid-2014. This crisis led to different forms of grassroots activism demanding political accountability, transparency, and redress. However, residents’ experiences and their needs and demands in response to the crisis have been largely ignored. This article explores the mechanisms of suppression at work in obscuring these needs and demands. Specifically, it sheds light on the role of the public sector, the media, and the academic institutions in reproducing these mechanisms of suppression. The article situates the struggles over political accountability within the neoliberalization of public administration and government through emergency management. Capital accumulation can continue and intensifies, whereas emergency management further contributes to suppressing public dissent in the times of crisis via the erosion of political accountability. By illuminating institutionalized mechanisms of suppression of residents’ needs and demands, we argue that the Flint water crisis should also be seen as a crisis of government, journalism, and academia.”


Water Testing Project with MSU

Flyer with an illustration of four children at a lemonade stand with no water and a banner saying "what happened to the water". Details about the water testing project, including a $100 stipend, promise of confidentiality, and number to call to see if you qualify: 1-844-42WATER

“We the People of Detroit’s work has four focus areas: water testing, story-telling and videography, door-to-door research, and mapping. The MSU team is collaborating with the collective to implement the water testing piece, looking at it from two angles: (1) How does water affordability affect water quality? and (2) How do communities use data and research to promote their own public health or political objectives?

The two-year project has two phases. The first phase involved creating a Community Advisory Board, made up of residents of Detroit, including members of We the People of Detroit. Then the MSU team worked with the Community Advisory Board to design the project, sampling strategy, and survey.

The next phase will involve sampling residents’ water for substances such as heavy metals, microorganisms, and disinfection by-products. To preserve anonymity, the MSU team does not go into the homes themselves to take the samples. “We’re working with the Community Advisory Board to train field workers to help the residents take their own samples and do some preliminary analysis in their households,” said Mitchell. This process also works towards a true citizen science approach. “Community members, via the Community Advisory Board, are engaged in the entire process. So even with developing the training protocols and what things we’re going to sample with, all of that is being developed with our community partners.””


Water Shutoffs Impact Public Health: a collaborative study with Henry Ford Health System

View/download fact sheet
View/download full research paper

“A new study by We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective and Henry Ford Health System shows a correlation between water shutoffs and water-related illnesses.

1. Patients admitted to Henry Ford Hospital with water-related illnesses were significantly
more likely to live on a block that has experienced water shutoffs. Patients diagnosed with skin
and soft tissue diseases were 1.48 times more likely to live on a block that has experienced
water shutoffs.

2. Living on a block that has experienced water shutoffs increases the likelihood that the
patient will be diagnosed with a water-related illness.

3. Patients who are most likely to experience water-related illnesses resulting from water
shutoffs are also the most socially vulnerable, according to the Center for Disease Control’s
‘Social Vulnerability Index.’

What should happen next?
1. The City of Detroit must institute an immediate moratorium on all water shutoffs.

2. The City of Detroit must institute a water affordability plan based on a resident’s ability to pay.

3. The City of Detroit must release water shutoff data necessary to complete a more thorough study of the impact of water shutoffs on public health, with an analysis as to how these conditions further contribute to racial health inequities.

How can I protect my family from these water-related illnesses?
1. Use bottled water for drinking or try to get water from a neighbor, ESPECIALLY for vulnerable populations.

2. Be careful not to reach hands into an open source (bucket/jug) of water. This can contaminate the water.

3. If the toilet cannot be flushed and human waste is sitting in it, periodically pour a bucket of water directly into the bowl to manually flush it; gravity will do the trick and send it to the sewer.

4. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean hands and wounds as much as possible. Consider asking neighbors or friends to come use their shower to bathe yourself and your family.

5. Once your water is reconnected, let it run for a little while (at least 5 minutes) before you drink it. This can help discharge any contaminants that might have settled in the pipes while it was shut off.

My water is shut off or at risk of being shut off. What should I do?
Call We the People of Detroit’s water rights hotline at 1-844-42WATER (1-844-429-2837). Our volunteers can assist Detroiters with locating emergency water and making payment arrangements with DWSD. We can also assist with finding and navigating the various water resources that are currently available.”

Water Access and Public Health

Esperanza Cantu writes for on why water access in Detroit matters for public health:

As officials continue to grapple with how to receive payments from water customers, the Population Health Council continues to advocate for a water affordability plan as a long-term solution, and a moratorium to the populations listed above as exceptions based on public health.

To read more click here.

Detroit Parents with Special Needs Students

The following article was originally posted on We the People of Detroit co-founder Aurora Harris’ Detroit Parents with Special Needs blog.

As a concerned parent of a loved on with Autism; a Special Education Advocate for parents in Detroit, Michigan; and a co-founder of We The People of Detroit, I have been concerned with the quality of education special needs students have been receiving. Since Detroit Public Schools were placed under Emergency Managers, beginning with Robert Bobb, I have continued independently researching and writing about special education (or the lack of) in the DPS, EAA (Education Achievement Authority, a State system for low performing schools) and Charter Schools.
There are several questions I am attempting to answer: What will happen to Detroit’s students with special needs in general ed, EAA, and charter schools that are closing? What schools will they be transferred to when their school closes? Will they receive the FAPE ( Free and Appropriate Public Education) they need as mandated by IEP’s, IDEA, and Section 504 or will they continue to suffer from cutbacks in resources, accommodations, and lack of qualified teachers? How many parents will experience discrimination when attempting to enroll a child with special needs in charters? Which schools are students with special needs experiencing overcrowding in? What exactly is funding to educate students with special needs in general ed, charter, and center based schools being spent on? When a child transfers or drops out, does the Emergency Manager and administration ensure the funds follow the student, and in the case of drop out, do they misappropriate the funding (spend it on other things) instead of returning it to the Feds or State? Where does the special education funding go when a school is permanently closed down? Finally, how many special needs students are and will be affected by school closures, water shut off and foreclosure in the city of Detroit? Some of my questions come from the inability to find detailed spending reports concerning special education in Detroit while under Emergency Managers from Robert Bobb to Judge Rhodes, and the refusal of majority legislators in Lansing refusing requests by Detroit legislators to have a forensic audit done for DPS while it was under emergency managers. The final question is related to a recent water shut off mapping study called Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit” by the We The People of Detroit Community Research Collective. We The People of Detroit is a local non-profit, that I am a co-founder of.
Last week, I received an eight page report on proposed school closings in the Detroit Public Schools District beginning in September 2016 (in two weeks). As some of you may have learned from my last blog entry, the Detroit Public Schools website changed and much of the information pertaining to the “old” district cannot be found. As usual, I have been continuing my research on the number of Special Education students in the Detroit School District (DPS and the new Community Schools District) that may be affected by school closures, the type of education and resources they will receive, and funding sources for Special Education in Detroit. As an advocate, parents asked me if they can enroll their child with special needs in a charter school or they have told me that charter schools in Detroit have told them they “are full” when the parent attempts to enroll their child. In response to those parents, I have told them that in the State of Michigan, according to federal law, all schools, including charters, must provide Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and charters cannot deny enrollment because the student has a disability. When parents told me that a charter school told them they are “full,” meaning they are at full enrollment capacity and cannot accept the student with a disability, it reminds me of the discrimination by charter schools that took place in New Orleans, where complaints were filed and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents when they found the charters were discriminating against the students. See an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center here.
In connecting the dots between New Orleans and Detroit, news sources in the past compared the closing of schools in Detroit to New Orleans, where New Orleans’ schools were destroyed and closed down by Hurricane Katrina (a natural disaster). The truth is the City of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools has not experienced a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. Detroit Public Schools were and still are being destroyed and closed down by Emergency Managers continually creating economic disaster by increasing the school district’s debt, and upholding polices and mandates that allowed for more charters schools to open. An article by the Metro Times covered the increase in debt after six years of Emergency Managers.
Today I discovered two reports by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. The first report supports what I have told parents. The first report dated March 30, 2012 is “Special Education Enrollment: Traditional Public Schools vs Charter Schools” discusses the mistaken belief that charter schools can have a selective enrollment process and explains why they “cannot categorically deny enrollment.” The second report, “Public School Enrollment Trends in Detroit Memo 1141, June 2016” provides details on the trends in enrollment from 2009 through 2016, and, enrollment of Special Education students. This report shows an <b>increase</b> in the number of students enrolled in the schools, from 13% to 18%, from the early 2000’s to present. It also states that students with special needs are moving slower out of the district when compared with general education students. “Table 4” shows there were almost 4500 students receiving special education from 2011-13. The report also shows differences between Detroit’s Special Education enrollment and other districts: “Another difference in DPS’s special education population is that roughly one-half of the disabled students (2,269 FTE of 4,499 FTE) attend one of the six centerbased programs operated by the district. For all other districts and charter schools in Wayne RESA, 44 percent of the disabled student body attend center-based programs located across the ISD.Another part of the report states: “Special education students account for 12.7 percent of Michigan’s (excluding DPS) total public school enrollment in 2015-16, compared to 18.2 percent for DPS. Relative to total enrollment, DPS’s special education population is almost one-third larger than the statewide average.13 While DPS’s special education share has been trending up over the 10-plus years, the opposite has been occurring statewide.” The full reports may be downloaded in PDF from the Citizens of Michigan Research Council website at the links indicated above.
Regarding special education students, school closure, water shut off and foreclosure, the questions previously stated remain, and, based on the reports I read today, if Detroit Public Schools’ total enrollment of special education students is increasing, and half of those students are in 6 centerbased schools (see DPS website map):
1. Banks, Diann Williamson Center 5020 Cadieux Detroit, MI 48224 (313) 347-7280
2. Drew Transition Center 9600 Wyoming Street Detroit, MI 48204-4669 (313) 873-6880
3. Field, Moses 1100 Sheridan Detroit, MI 48214-4220 (313) 866-5790
4. Keidan Special Education Center 4441 Collingwood Detroit, MI 48204 (313) 873-9400
5. Turning Point Academy 12300 Linnhurst St. Detroit, MI 48205-2627 (313) 866-2200
6. White, Jerry L. Center 14804 W. McNichols Detroit, MI 48235 (313) 416-4200
are special education students residing and/or attending schools in areas heaviest hit with water shut off or foreclosure? I believe we can find an approximate number of special needs students affected by looking at the location of school closures, existing schools, and the maps provided by the We The People of Detroit Community Research Collective. A sample of the maps are found here.
The Fox 2 Detroit News Report on the press conference concerning the community report “Mapping the Water Crisis” can be found here.
A second publication by We The People of Detroit on education is forthcoming. Whether you are a parent, student, activist, or researcher, I hope you have found this information helpful.

In Case You Missed It…

For those who missed the incredible book launch for Mapping the Water Crisis here are some video links from the presentation! Thank you to Leona McElevene for capturing these moments.


1/10 – (Approx. 1 minute) – Opening Song by The Flowtown Revue


2/10 – (Approx. 2 minutes) – The Flowtown Revue, STOP Turning Water Off


3/10 – (Approx. 2 minutes) – Hon. JoAnn Watson, We The People of Detroit Organizational Overview


4/10 – (Approx. 6 minutes) – Debra Taylor, The Story of the Community Research Collective (CRC)


5/10 – (Approx. 7 minutes) – Dr. Andrew Herscher, Map Overview


6/10 – (Approx. 12 minutes) – Emily Kutil, Chart/Graphs Overview


7/10 – (Approx. 6 minutes) – Nadia Gaber, Health Impact Study Update


8/10 – (Approx. 30 minutes) – Dismantling of African-American Neighborhoods in Detroit – Q & A


9/10 – (Approx. 7 minutes) – William Davis, President, DAREA; and J.T. Campbell, Arizona State Univ.


10/10 – (Approx. 2 minutes) – Musical Performance by Next Generation Jazz Trio



Shea Howell – “Separate and Unequal”

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Separate and Unequal

August 14, 2016

This week the New York Times published yet another story about the reality of two separate and unequal Detroits. With the title “In Detroit’s 2-Speed Recovery, Downtown Roars and Neighborhoods Sputter,” Peter Applebome points to critical questions the Mayor and his administration would like to avoid.

After a brief sketch of downtown, Midtown and Corktown development, Applebome raises the question of what development means to neighborhoods. He says, “But what that means for the rest of the city and who is benefiting have set in motion a layered conversation about development, equity, race and class. It is playing out with particular force here in what was once the nation’s fourth-largest city and is now a place at once grappling with poverty, crime and failing schools, but also still animated by the bones of its former glory.”

This is a conversation the Mayor avoids. Yet even a transient observe like Applebome concludes, “The lack of progress is just as noticeable in the sprawl of often dilapidated neighborhoods, baking in the summer heat.”

Many are baking in that heat without water. No where is the lack of progress and the denial by the Mayor and his administration clearer than in the water shut off crisis. The day before the New York Times article appeared, a group of community based researchers issued an important report. Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit: Volume 1 is the result of an18 month study documenting water shut offs in the city.  The report demonstrates in clear and specific detail that neighborhoods are suffering from a combination of foreclosures and shut offs, diminishing the quality of life for everyone in the community. Last year 23,000 homes were shut off from water. Over the last decade the city has endured 110,000 foreclosures.

Underscoring the growing divide in our city, Monica Lewis-Patrick, a guiding force in the research collaborative, said, “There is a renaissance downtown full of newcomers, while they are shutting off water for those who stayed and paid” their bills for years.

The impact of these shut offs in a city where 40% of the people live in poverty and many are paying more than 10% of their income for water is to actively drive people out of their homes. Dr. Gloria House, Professor Emerita of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Wayne State University explained that the mapping documents that

“The incidents of shutoffs, foreclosures and school closures are not random, but intentional and specific… We believe it’s about the dismantling of neighborhoods.”

The Mayor continues to deny this reality. He refuses to consider the consequences of his policies in the lives of people in neighborhoods. Instead he chooses to pretend his water assistance plan (WRAP) is solving the problem.  No one but the Mayor and his administration believes this. No one who sees the shut off trucks moving through neighborhoods on a daily basis believes this.

The objective statistics do not support this. The WRAP is a failure.  It has a waiting list of 3,000 customers and the majority of people who have been signed up simply cannot keep up with the monthly payments.

The work of the We the People Detroit Community Research Collective documents in stark terms that our city is devolving into two separate, unequal, and unhealthy realities.

It does not have to be this way. Community activists and researchers have consistently advocated plans to make water available to all at affordable prices. They have developed programs to keep people in their homes and to stop foreclosures.  The real choice we face is about whose lives matter in our city.