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‘We are hiding out with no water’: Detroit privatizers deny poor people their right to water

June 28, 2014

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Poor News Network

“We are hiding out in our own house with no water,” Shelah, a 15-year-old youth and poverty skola whispered on the phone to me. She went on to tell me she and her mama and 9-year-old brother were among thousands of poor families who have had their water service cut off in the last few months by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Every week, as some 3,000 additional families’ water is shut off by their “public” utility, Detroiters protest on Freedom Friday. – Photo: Ryan Felton

Every week, as some 3,000 additional families’ water is shut off by their “public” utility, Detroiters protest on Freedom Friday. – Photo: Ryan Felton

Since spring, up to 3,000 Detroit households per week have been getting their water shut off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in bills. This is the Detroit facing water privatization in which upward of 150,000 customers, late on bills that have increased 119 percent in the last decade, are now threatened with shut-offs. Detroit organizers estimate this could impact nearly half of Detroit’s mostly poor and Black population – between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

Privatization is the U.S. corporate answer to everything, and to Detroit, like Chicago and New Orleans and Oakland and hundreds of other U.S. cities, this means the private corporate theft of all of our public resources, including schools, parks, streets and housing. As us poor folks know, the result is we end up water-less, house-less, street-less and park-less – gentrified out of our own neighborhoods, schools and communities and shuttled into the biggest profit-maker of them all: plantation prisons.

This is nothing new. Poor people are always getting our so-called public utilities shut off. When me and my mama were dealing with our life-long poverty and about to be houseless in Oakland, all of our utilities were cut off. The first thing that happened was my mama was afraid CPS would find out and mark her as “negligent.” This is part of the deep criminalization and Catch 22 that poor families face all the time, causing us to not even seek so-called “help” for fear of more theft, removal and criminalization.

Since spring, up to 3,000 Detroit households per week have been getting their water shut off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in bills.

“My friend was put into foster care after her water got cut off,” Shelah whispered. She and her brother are among the many children who are now at risk of seizure by Children’s Separation Service, as it might as well be called, because after they take everything away from us poor folks, then they threaten to take our children. “That’s when we went into hiding,” she concluded.

This is nothing new. Poor people are always getting our so-called public utilities shut off.

Grassroots organizers have been fighting back.

A coalition of grassroots groups like Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch and Canada-based Blue Planet Project issued a report on June 18 containing the testimony of people who are affected by the service shut-offs and said they were given no warning. They submitted the report, “Submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation regarding water cutoffs in the City of Detroit, Michigan,” to the United Nations naming these shut-offs as a violation of human rights.

The U.N. answered back: “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” the U.N. officials said in a news release. “Because of a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.”

The public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target of the private developers – and these mass water shut-offs of our people’s homes are a way to make the so-called public utility more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.

“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” the U.N. officials said in a news release.

As po’ folks, our so-called public resources are always under attack, our so-called free lives, which were used, stolen and exploited to build this stolen land they call amerikkka, are always at risk of eviction, displacement, gentrification, death by police terror and/or incarceration. This is why us poor and landless stolen and diasporic Afrikans, criminalized, false bordered, indigenous and po’ folks at POOR Magazine are actively creating an international model for poor people-led change we call Homefulness in Deep East Ohlone Land (Oakland) where we take our stolen resources back, self-determined by us, and teach descendants of stolen wealth hoarders to redistribute their families’ stolen and hoarded blood-stained dollaz.

This is what we at POOR Magazine call Community Reparations. And this model needs to be practiced across the United Snakkkes of Amerikkka and the world so these violations of our human bodies, our communities and our land will cease to occur.

All power to the people in Detroit!

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at deeandtiny@poormagazine.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.

As water crisis in Detroit escalates, groups pressure United Nations to take action, restore water service to thousands of residents and ensure the human right to water

by Meera Karunananthan, Blue Planet Project, and Kate Fried, Food and Water Watch

Detroit, Michigan – In March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it would begin shutting off water ser­vice for 1,500 to 3,000 customers every week if their water bills were not paid, and now the City Council has approved an 8.7 percent water rate increase. According to a recent DWSD document, more than 80,000 residential households are in arrears.

Gwen Gaines protests at a national rally against water shut-offs and privatization. – Photo: Kenny Snodgrass

Gwen Gaines protests at a national rally against water shut-offs and privatization. – Photo: Kenny Snodgrass

With thousands of families now without water, and thousands more expected to lose access at any moment, a group of concerned organizations has submitted a report to Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, urging authorities to take immediate action to restore water services and stop further cutoffs. The report was released by the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food and Water Watch.

“By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water,” said Blue Planet Project Founder and Food and Water Watch Board Chair Maude Barlow. “After decades of policies that put businesses and profits ahead of the public good, the city now has a major crisis on its hands. It is shocking and abominable that anyone would be subjected to these conditions.”

Over the last decade, Detroit residents have seen water rates rise by 119 percent. With unemployment rates at a record high and the poverty rate at about 40 percent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population. Many of those affected by the shut-offs were given no warning. The infirm have been left without water and functioning toilets, children cannot bathe and parents cannot adequately prepare food for their families.

“When delinquent corporate water lines are still running without collection of funds, it demonstrates a level of intentional disparity that devalues the lives of the people struggling financially. Where is our compassion? Where is our humanity?” asked Lila Cabbil, president emeritus of the Rosa Parks Institute.

“By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water,” said Blue Planet Project Founder and Food and Water Watch Board Chair Maude Barlow.

In 2013, Detroit declared bankruptcy and appointed Kevyn Orr as emergency manager, giving him a mandate to get the city back on its feet financially. Orr has since taken steps to privatize the DWSD, and many now believe that the water shut-offs are an attempt to appeal to potential investors.

In the Great Lakes region, large, private water companies charge households on average more than twice as much as rates charged by comparable publicly-controlled systems. Moreover, private operation has been linked to poor service, workforce reductions, maintenance backlogs, water leaks and sewage spills.

The Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food and Water Watch make the following recommendations:

  • We call on the state of Michigan and the U.S. government to respect the human right to wa­ter and sanitation.
  • We call on the city to restore services to households that have been cut off immediately.
  • We call on the city to abandon its plan for further cutoffs.
  • We call on the federal and state governments to work with the city to ensure a sustainable public financing plan and rate structure that would prevent a transfer of the utility’s finan­cial burden onto residents who are currently paying exorbitant rates for their water ser­vices.
  • We call for fair water rates for the residents of Detroit.
  • We call on the City of Detroit to implement the original water affordability program.

Meera Karunananthan of the Blue Planet Project can be reached at meera@canadians.org@CouncilOfCDNs, and Kate Fried of Food and Water Watch can be reached at kfried@fwwatch.org. This story previously appeared on the Voice of Detroit.

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8 thoughts on “‘We are hiding out with no water’: Detroit privatizers deny poor people their right to water

  1. Spoutinghorn

    Give us free water, otherwise we will have to use the money we spend on cel phones, tattoos, nail salons and hair braiding on it!

    Reply
  2. Asok Asus

    Pay no taxes, get free food, free medical care, free housing,free cell phones and now free water. Makes total sense. Where can I sign up? I’m sick to death working 60 hours a week, paying taxes, and not getting any free stuff at all.

    Reply
  3. Sailor 1

    Here’s The Deal:
    Detroit has been run for decades by: Left Wing, Democrat, minority/majority, confiscatory, business hating, union loving, con artists. The City and its pension system has systematically been plundered and underfunded to prop-up what essentially is a criminal enterprise. Its vast and formally efficient/modern infrastructure (including water services)has been starved of sufficient funds for maintenance, etc. so that rip-offs and “excess” fees for city services, taxes, etc. could be diverted to payoffs and vote buying.

    Detroit’s minority/majority culture has increasingly victimized and cannibalized itself, as white folks fled. Black folks have stolen from Black folks for so long, and to such a degree, that there is nothing left. NOTHING. Detroit is the parent of its own disaster. Disgraced and degraded by its failure to act responsibly…. to plan ahead, to forgo present gratification for future security.

    As with most unsophisticated, basically illiterate, and lower class drones, willingly and stupidly corrupted by welfare, and same-race hustlers, the underclass, third world minority/majority population of Detroit is now cannibalizing itself and crying out for another hand-out, to the UN no less! The inevitable result of this thuggish and embarrassing begging will be to steal from a relatively healthy polity, spreading the cancer of failure wider. Like the crack and heroine addict, the outstretched hand of Detroit’s beggar class will corrupt anything it touches.

    Spare us the meaningless lie that it’s the “people’s water”. That is phraseology of a thief. Water is nothing more than a commodity. Its “value”, utility and “ownership” inures to those who can provide/deliver it efficiently/cheaply and maintain a system for reliable delivery, over time. Like so much else, the failure of Detroit and its ever devolving population to maintain its water system is due largely to the failure of its citizens to act in a rational way, preferring the shiny baubles of race-obsessed con artists rooting, like hogs, for votes, spreading the cancer of “victimization” and theft.

    And the SF Bay View is selling the same self-defeating snake oil of victimization, theft and puffed-up claims of the “noble contribution” of this taker class, demanding more, and more, and more. Trillions in transfer payments (i.e. welfare) from the makers to the takers, for 60-70 years (gifted to both Black and White) has done virtually nothing to relieve what, in reality, is a failure of right thought/action, not some mysterious, self-defeating fantasy of victimization.

    Reply
  4. Rellik

    I get free water and sewage!
    I just had to buy a Tank, liner, cover, install an engineered pad – cost $5000.
    I just had to buy and install a water pump, accumulator tank, 3 filters, UV sterilizer,install water pipe from the tank to the pump,and wire it all up – cost $4000.
    I just had to buy, install roof water collection system ,and install pipes from water tank to the water pump cost $500.

    Get system designed, permitted, and contractor to install septic system for waste that is mostly water cost – $10,000.

    Maintenance – pump electricity, UV bulb replacement, monthly filter change, gutter cleaning, tank liner and cover replacement every few years, septic pump outs costs average $ 45 monthly.

    So there you are, you want free water, that is how you get it.
    So in the last 13 years my free water and sewer has cost me $26,520 or $170 a month. Plus I did most the work myself!
    At least I don’t have to beg a Democrat to get my services.
    Detroiters are beyond pity, no wonder Liberals treat them like dirt.

    Reply
  5. Booger

    privatization actually lowers the cost of water and sewer because they dont have to deal with retirement and insurance costs that the city does,lawsuits and P.R. and I can gurentee you that if the city didnt allow it to go private they would have let it fail or you wouldnt be able to afford it any way.Get off your butt and pay your water bill.

    Reply
  6. Christine

    I’d like to know more about the corporations who have back water bills and are not being shut off, and I’d like to know more about the justifications for the 119 percent increase in billing rates. It is a crisis when the population does not have water, that’s a given; but I’d like to hear what exactly created this crisis, and what the City is saying justifies the rate increases since it is not privatized yet. Anyone can be sympathetic to lack of water, but no one will believe a City can continue to function without citizens paying for services. What is the back story? How did it come to this?

    Reply
  7. Christine

    An after thought. In many cities, counties, states, your public utilities are added on to your tax bill if they are left unpaid. It seems if this was the case in Detroit, they’d be foreclosing on people’s homes for their unpaid taxes which would include the delinquent unpaid utitlities. Is this happening? If people are to help to find a solution to this crisis, we need to know more.

    Reply

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