Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | January 31, 2016

No words….

Yesterday two of my friends and I had the honor of volunteering in Flint, MI for a small NGO called Crossing Water.   This is a volunteer organization started by some members of the National Association of Social Workers-MI chapter.  The goal of this group is to create connections among community groups in Flint to help serve impoverished communities who are deeply affected by the current water crisis.  What I saw was heart-breaking beyond words.  And it was only one day there.  I am trying to imagine living this way and I can’t.

 

We came to a low-income housing complex run by the Flint Housing Commission.  I saw a case of water on people’s doorsteps that had been delivered earlier in the day by volunteers.  There was no governmental system in the complex to test water, distribute water, or provide lead-testing to the children.  This is a complex managed essentially by HUD.  Where are the government leaders?

We knocked on one door to deliver filters and water.  A young man answered who was happy to see us.  “Do you have a filter?” He does, but it did not fit, so we gave him another one which would work in his unit.  I asked if he had had his water tested, and he was not sure.  He showed me the testing bottle he had from his aunt’s house, which was on the floor of his car, but he could not find the paperwork to go with it (which is used for tracking and data analysis).  I explained how he had to get his water tested, making sure he understood to use unfiltered water that had been in the tap for at least 6 hours.  He had no idea he had to do this, as he had not heard that filtered water was not safe to drink either.  Children under six live with him, and they cannot drink even the filtered water. He had no idea, no one told him, and he does not have access to the internet to get all of the updates online.  My brilliant friend had the idea that instead of the Governor hiring PR firms to spin his reputation, perhaps he should hire PR firms to get a coordinated message out on safety and testing to ALL the people of Flint.

The next house four young children answered the door gleefully, as if they knew we were delivering water to them.    The little girl joyfully showed us her newly painted nails as we talked to her young auntie who was caring for them while their mom was at work.  We explained to the aunt about how to get her water tested, and she had no idea of the process.  She at least had a filter and we made sure she knew the kids could only drink the bottled water.  Then, the young boy strongly and sternly put out his arms for the case of water.  I said, “It’s pretty heavy, kiddo,” but he persisted with “I can do it!” I gave him the case and he proudly held it and brought it into the apartment.  All I could think about was that this little boy should not have to be so strong and sturdy that his little arms have to carry a case of water for his family, he should be holding out his arms to catch a ball or grab a swing.  But he was eager and ready for water.  Water he should be getting out of his tap, not out of a bottle.

Knock. knock.  A young mom answers her door and we ask if she needs water or a filter. She needed both, and I asked if there were any urgent medical issues.  She said her baby had a bad skin rash after a bath the other day, “but it’s ok, it went away today.”  NO, NO, NO, it’s not ok.  In the state of Michigan in 2016, a mother should be able to joyfully give her baby a bath and trust that her baby will be safe from skin rashes.  The saddest part is that this young mom just accepted this without much anger or question.  She has learned to live in a world that has treated her less than for so long that she readily accepts that her home is giving her baby skin rashes.

A few doors down, a young man answers the door for his elderly male relative who is homebound.   We give him some jugs of water and ask if they have a filter.  “yea, someone came by one day and gave us one.”  Did you know that you have to change your filter regularly, like every 2 months?  He yells to his relative and asks about the filter.  “no, we didn’t know that, ya got any?”  So we gave him a replacement cartridge.  Did anyone tell you to test your water? “Nah, how do you do that?”   We give him a test kit, the instructions, and realized that the water testing being done is abysmal.

A woman runs out to our car and asks if she can have some water because her daughter is pregnant.  Her apartment is not on our targeted list but of course we will give her water.   “Do I need to sign something for the water?”  My friend reassures her “No, no, you do not need to sign anything, we are not checking anything, we just want you to have water.”  She knows that her pregnant daughter cannot drink even filtered water, but she does not know how to get her unit tested.  We give her a test kit.  “We need to get our blood tested, do you know where we can go?”  I look up test sites on my Iphone, give her some information and tell her to take care of herself and her daughter.  She thanks us profusely, and we get in our car and scream.  How can this be happening?

I ask another woman if anyone from the Housing Commission has been out here.  “Nah, but we got some water delivered once by a guy in a big Budget truck.”  Good God, this crisis has been going on for 2 years and no one from Housing & Urban Development (HUD) or the Housing Commission has been out here to educate its residents or test the water?

Later in the afternoon we go further into the East side of Flint.  The dilapidated homes are surrounded by barren lots, old abandoned buildings, a trailer park with gutted trailers tagged with graffiti all next to a junk yard and old factory.  One house we are trying to reach has a disabled adult who is homebound.  His dog is outside and greets us, doing his duty and barking and protecting his home.  We respect him, but then I see a person looking out the window.  We hold up some water, but no one comes out.  I wonder, would I come out and get water and a filter from a complete stranger?  Would I want to show my vulnerability and inability to perhaps walk or move, and come face to face with a stranger who reminds me daily that I cannot drink water from my own home? No, I do not think I would.  We understand this, we understand that this dog is not menacing, but protecting its owner, and we gently leave the cases of water and filter on the driveway.  I hope they understand we do not judge, we do not want to cause shame.  We just want them to be safe.

My friend knocks on the next door, and an elderly woman doesn’t get up but let’s her peek in.   “We are here with Crossing Water to deliver water to you.”  She does not want us to come in and really does not want us to ask any questions.  We know she is homebound, is isolated, and has cancer from the canvassing done earlier, which is why we are there.  We want to make sure she is medically ok, has a filter and understands the risks.  My friend tells her we have 3 cases of water for her.  “I only want 2.” No, really, we have three for you.  “I only want 2.”  Respectfully, we leave two cases for her.  And I know my friend will never be able to get this woman’s face out of her mind.   What will happen to her?  2 cases of water does not last long.

Across the street we go and knock, knock, knock.  A young mother of four races out to greet us in her driveway.  “Oh, my god, I’m so glad to see you guys, I just had a baby 3 weeks ago and I’ve been drinking water from the tap my whole pregnancy.  I don’t have a car because someone stole the ignition out of it.  I have some water for the formula but I have to wash his bottles with the tap water.”  We give her a filter, a test kit, and extra jugs, breaking the rules of how much water we can deliver to each house.  My heart breaks.  I work with infants, I know the effects of neurotoxins during pregnancy.  This baby likely has had massive lead exposure that is yet to be discovered.  This mom may have known the risks but HAD NO CHOICE but to use her only source of water for the last 9 months.  Her older daughter is watching us from the window.  She looks sad.  But is she mirroring my face?

The city was eerily quiet, with a myriad of In and Out marts, gas stations, bars, vacant lots, run-down houses, and churches surrounding the East side.   I wondered where all the water trucks were, where the National Guard were, where are all the governmental leaders?  This city has its entire water distribution destroyed, and all we could see were private volunteers at churches and businesses handing out cases of bottled water to people through a make-shift assembly line.   We can go to the Middle East, bomb and destroy entire cities, rebuild these cities, and we can’t fix this?  Where are the temporary water systems that our government could set up?  Where are the military personnel and trucks who could deliver cases of water and filters to people who have no resources nor transportation?  Folks are supposed to go to a local fire station, pick up a filter, a test kit, some water, and then return the test kit to the fire station for testing?  That’s the plan?  Seriously?  In 2016, that’s the plan?

I thought we’d see a local Command Central in an abandoned building, a church, or a school where there was a base of operations for water testing, water distribution, and lead testing.  I thought we’d see National Guard going door-to-door collecting water samples from each home so that accurate testing and mapping of the city could be done in an organized and coordinated manner.  I thought we’d see Red Cross tents throughout the poorest parts of the city.  What I did see were local groups and amazing volunteers of people from churches, social service groups, and unions meeting people in their homes so they could at least have bottled water and filters.  What I did see was good people trying to help, perhaps restoring some kernels of hope for people who have been beaten down.  More importantly, what I did see were poor people who, instead of being outraged at the indignity and destruction their government has created for them, have been so disenfranchised and are so impoverished that they have been conditioned to believe they are not worthy of even a basic human right such as clean water.

Not only does the infrastructure need to change, but so does an entire belief system on how we treat the poor.

In the words of Hubert Humphrey, “The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy, and the handicapped.”

In this city, in this state, our government has failed this test immeasurably.

 

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Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Spark! and commented:
    This post delivers a far more personal touch on the Flint Water Crisis than what many bloggers and reporters (myself included) have provided. It’s well worth the read.

  2. Good post. I’ve been writing on the Flint crisis, but my posts are somewhat clinical, and more “big picture.” This provides a well-needed human touch to this calamity.

  3. It is sad that this is happening in the 21st century USA.

  4. Thank you.

  5. This is abysmal and disheartening that in this great country we can have such an ignored crisis (while everyone in charge is hurrying to do damage control and blame the next person). Fix it!! Then slide the blame onto others.

  6. I live in West Flint and have high lead in my house. This is scary as I have had cancer twice. All summer long I had sediment in my water, it looked like yellow sand with black flecks in it. No one at the water department would come to my house to see what was going on. I felt as if I was paying for a service and being ignored. All the city ever did was turn on the fire hydrant across the street. I was paying on average $110.00 a MONTH for water and getting no service when I reported problems with my water. Also, in the summer of 2014, my water smelled like a sewer and I called the city to tell them their was something wrong. At the time I called they told me the water was fine. Three days after the car show was over they told us my neighborhood had e-coli. I was informed the water dept. knew about it, but it was a lack of communication why we were not notified. I believe they did not let out info because the car show was on and businesses would loose $$. I became terribly ill with pneumonia, the baby that lives next door was sick and in the hospital, and others were sick around here also. In the back of my mind, we were sick because of the e-coli. I have a bad immune system and this mess is dangerous. Even though I pay my taxes and don’t get any assistance whatsoever, I feel I am treated like a second class citizen because I live in Flint. Thank you for the beautiful article.

  7. Reblogged this on mayday.

  8. […] Source: No words…. […]

  9. Reblogged this on 38 Caliber Reviews.

  10. Can we post this in our newsletter? Email me so we can talk.

  11. Reblogged at Illuminite Caliginosus.

  12. […] Read the rest of the original post here. […]

  13. Could you contact us?

    We are Independent Underground News & Talk and we would like to arrange an interview with you to talk about your experience delivering water to the economically depressed areas of Flint. Please free to reach out to us at info@iunewstalk.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

  14. heartbreaking

  15. […] at her “Voices from the Infant, Toddler and Family Field” blog. The post is titled “No words” and the title cruelly apt. Here’s a taste of what she saw during a recent day of […]

  16. Speechless in tears! I want to go with you. When do you go again?

  17. All I can say is what is the best way for me to help?

  18. I think a great organization is the one I volunteered for this weekend. Crossing Water is a small group who are focusing work in the most economically disadvantaged areas of Flint.

    Go to Crossing Water on Facebook, and you can send them a message and also see what volunteer opportunities are available through their group.

    Thank you for your desire to want to help.

  19. This post hit me hard. I am not a Flint resident but several of my close friends are and it’s painful to watch their health and the health of their families deteriorate. It angers me. It only upsets me more that I’m in no financial position to help. All I can do is talk about it and write what I can. Thank you for writing this.

  20. HUD is not a local or state entity but a federal entity. This constant blame game is getting tiresome. We are hearing it was political, racial or class warfare. Perhaps if people stopped fighting and just worked together, this situation can be dealt with quicker. Also I would like to point out that there are now reports that Flint is not the only city seeing elevated lead levels. Michigan is not the only state seeing elevated lead levels.

  21. Patti, change the word “blame” to “responsibility,” and you will see why people are still looking for culprits. Until someone steps up and takes responsibility, the guilty parties are not held accountable to create solutions. It is fine to say everyone should work together, and I agree. So far, though, I have only seen actual effort put in by organizations who in NO WAY caused this problem. Organizations like Crossing Waters, and Pastor Bobby of Mission of Hope, are terrific, and are doing what they can. Many are. How much more could be accomplished, though, if Michigan’s actual governor stepped up to the plate, and rallied resources?

  22. Flint Michigan. America’s 21st century Love Canal.

    We really havn’t learned much in 50 years. Sad.

  23. TY for your time and effort to help in the city of Flint.
    I live on the south side of the city of flint…and up until a few weeks ago, no help was being given in the form of water and filters…now they’ve been through twice and I went to my local distribution center to get the test container…I just dropped it back off last Tuesday.
    I didn’t realize until reading your article, that we are to still only drink bottled water, even with a filter!! And thats a problem, through all of this…the number one thing I’ve seen is the lack of information about what is really going on and what things should and shouldn’t we be doing to protect ourselves!
    Unfortunately, my husband and I had been using the water up until a few months ago when the alerts about lead were finally released. Now I’m scared as to what this might have done to us and I honestly have no faith in the reports that it is supposed to be safe for brushing our teeth, bathing in, or any other use of the water in our home!!
    I’m anxiously awaiting the results of our water and praying for everyone in the city that is suffering through this tragic situation! ! It truly is a sad thing to realize that everyone in this city has been paying for poison!!
    In 2016, In the United States of America…who would’ve thought that its citizens would be denied a safe resource that is fundamental to living!!

  24. […] I posted an excerpt from and a link to the essay “No Words” in my #FlintWaterCrisis news round-up. The piece by Ann Arbor social worker Beverly Davidson, […]

  25. As a disaster response volunteer, I work on everything form gutting flooded homes to tearing them down with heavy equipment after a tornado or hurricane as a certified operator from Team Rubicon USA and Department of Interior.

    There are four phases to any disaster response:

    Phase one first response asses the situation scale and scope of the response required.

    Phase two begin short term response efforts and being planning and logistics of medium and long term response, asses the situation scale and scope of the response required.

    Phase three execute operation of long term plan response. asses the situation scale and scope of the response required.

    Phase four scaling down and demobilization.

    I live in Detroit and would gladly help dig up the lead pipes in Flint. All that is needed is a disaster to be declared and a EOC set up with FEMA certified command and control center to triage the disaster and plan operations with scaleable logistics to deal with the issues as prioritized by the planning section.

    This is Military talk for HOW TO GET SHIT DONE!

    I’ve been reading the news articles, blogs and following the volunteer organizational efforts to help for months. It is clear to me that the City and County and State are having territorial issues that have nothing what so ever to do with the three different disasters they are facing now with a fourth sure to come if they don;t start treating this like the real fucking disaster! that it is. I not sure they realize what they, what to potential ongoing hazard as and risks are or how to deal with them.

    Disaster number one:

    Ongoing water born health and safety attack on the entire population.

    Short term solutions being used:

    Passing out water bottles, filter and information from the fire house.
    door to door volunteer water distribution filter installation and testing.

    Medium term solutions being organized ????????

    Long term solution being planed. ??????????

    Disaster number two:

    Population can’t be evacuated to remove them from the ongoing threats of exposure and risks.

    Short term solutions being used:

    Some have moved out of the city with friend or relatives.
    Passing out water bottles, filter and information from the fire house.
    door to door volunteer water distribution filter installation and testing.
    Those that own their homes, families in school and limited resources are trapped.

    Medium term solutions being organized ????????

    Long term solution being planed. ??????????

    Disaster number three:

    Contaminated water system in every building in the city needs to be visually inspected. Lead and damaged pipes and fittings replaces.

    Short term solutions being used:

    Some have moved out of the city with friend or relatives.
    Passing out water bottles, filter and information from the fire house.
    door to door volunteer water distribution filter installation and testing.
    Those that own their homes, families in school and limited resources are trapped.

    Medium term solutions being organized ????????

    Long term solution being planed. ??????????

    All the these are man made disasters one is the priority. Can you tell which disaster is the greatest threat? Which disaster needs to be dealt with first second the third and why?

    If you get the right order you save thousands of lives from a lifetime of suffering if you get the order wrong you damn them and their families for generations.

    There is the a forth and so far undeclared disaster that will happen if this is not dealt with openly, honestly and correctly with the people of Flint and the United States:

    When this happens again and we did’t learn how to get it right this time.

  26. This is a very heartfelt story! Flint has been a forgotten city for the last 30 years. Many people retired or moved to the suburbs, and with a loss of revenue services were cut, so crime increased. Our urban areas in the U.S. Have all suffered from this , and it needs to be fixed. How could anyone want to drink water that was exposed to industrial pollution for 100 years and then not even filter or treat it. We are what we create and everyone that decided that the city should drink this water or covered up the truth about it should be held accountable. We all should have a right to clean and safe water.

  27. I live in Sweden, the land of 70% Forests and over 80000 lakes, with water so Clean, one can drink it. Some of the larger lakes in the South are used after filtering for drinking water for the cities, but smaller communities get their water from Deep Deep reservoirs, when the water is 100% crystal clear and pure, straight from the tap….and that is how it should be even in the USA…….but obviously it isnt, dont blame nature, blame the greedy pigs who run the country to make as much Money regardless of how much they pollute your land

  28. I hope you don’t mind, I would like to share this on my own blog. I have been working on my own post about Flint and I can’t imagine sharing anything as eye opening as what you have written. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  29. […] No words…. […]

  30. Reblogged this on dmariesings and commented:
    An on the ground view of the Flint, Michigan water crisis…

  31. Thank you. Please share if you think it will help raise awareness.

  32. Thank you!

  33. You are welcome, and many blessings to you as you await the results of your test and continue to grapple with the water crisis. I will continue to support the people do affected by this with advocacy as much as I can. Peace to you.

  34. […] https://beverlymsw.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/no-words/ […]

  35. […] From Voices from the Infant, Toddler, and Family Field: No Words… […]

  36. I am a nurse and I would like to volunteer time, and medical expertise…How do I go about this?

  37. […] https://beverlymsw.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/no-words/ […]

  38. […] her “Voices from the Infant, Toddler and Family Field” blog. The post is titled “No words” and the title is cruelly apt. Here’s a taste of what she saw during a recent day of […]

  39. […] I posted an excerpt from and a link to the essay “No Words” in my #FlintWaterCrisis news round-up. The piece by Ann Arbor social worker Beverly […]


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