Flint Day 2: The mission

While I laid out the problem yesterday, today I will set up the mission of what I’m doing as a volunteer in Flint. I’m not positive how much legs blogging on what I’m doing in Flint will have, but we’ll see what can be most informative. And, like I wrote in my Day Zero blog, if you have any questions, post them to me and I will see about getting them answered.

I arrived at the Flint local American Red Cross chapter at 7:30 on Tuesday morning to report for duty. Sorry to continue to compare with my experience in Greece, but this is what is on my mind these days and part of me, in the back of my brain, was expecting something not like Tabakika, but definitely a much less modern building than the one I walked into. I think it’s hard not to associate a developing country or humanitarian crisis with a drinking water catastrophe, so I was prepared for worse. But, it’s still the United States. But, there’s a huge water problem. After Day 2 I’m still having difficulties lining this up in my head. I’m brushing my teeth with bottled water yet I’m in the city where General Motors started building cars over 100 years ago.

I met the Red Cross volunteer coordinators and chatted with them for a while and filled out some paperwork. I also became a permanent Red Cross volunteer, so if disaster strikes somewhere in the US (or locally, wherever the heck that is for me), I can be called upon. I had never thought of doing this before, I really didn’t know it was an option and, well, the Red Cross does a horrible job about letting people know that they can do this. You sign up and there is no commitment. I would recommend those in the US and abroad to consider this.

I was not given much of a briefing other than I was going to go out with a driver, John, to deliver water. I was given a clipboard with a spreadsheet of addresses and boxes to fill in for each address along with a quick rundown of the general sense of what all the different tasks were. Honestly, a bit confusing. But, John was an experienced volunteer with the Red Cross, so any questions I had I could ask him. I was given a Red Cross vest and a badge that identified me as part of the Flint Water Response Team and we were off.

It was lucky that I was paired up with John on my first day. He had never done a route before as a driver, but he had managed the entire warehouse I mentioned in my last post as well as other high-level coordination activities in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. So, he was a goldmine of information and was aware of the some of the politics in the response effort.

When the crisis broke in January, everyone in the city was getting water delivered to their homes. There were also (and still is) water distribution centers where people can go and pick up water. It’s all free. There have been various limits at different times (like one case of bottled water per person), but where it stands now is that people can take as much as they want within reason.

Faucet attachment water filters (Pur and Brita; my own Pur filter on my studio kitchen faucet in the picture above) were, and are, distributed as well, with replacement filters. There were also water pitcher filters given out too (Brita and ZeroWater). All of these do filter out lead and are completely safe to use if used correctly (I will see if there is enough of a post to write about the dos and don’ts of filter use, which is actually of use to everyone, everywhere).

An interesting side note… If water is contaminated, what has always been the sure way to ensure that it’s safe? To boil it, right? Not with lead. If you boil the water, it actually concentrates the lead further, because there is less water and boiling water does not “kill” it off like bacteria. Something to remember if you ever have a lead problem.

Over time, the wealthier inhabitants of Flint (and businesses, schools, hospitals, etc.) have put in place more higher technology filtration systems like reverse osmosis to purify the water that enters their homes/buildings. But, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, 41.5% of Flint’s residents are below the poverty line and can’t afford to install such technology. I’m not sure what percentage of the population actually can or has. Again, it’s the poor that bear an inequitable share of the burden in such a crisis.

If people aren’t able to install the technology or purchase bottled water at the supermarket (or don’t want to), they are free to pick up bottled water (and/or filters) at a number of water distribution centers around the city. These are at fire departments, whose distribution is run by the National Guard (although they are pulling out any day now) and by private charities, most of which are faith-based organizations (including Islamic Relief), but also organizations like the Food Bank. The demand for bottled water has been going down with the introduction of the various filter systems, so the amount of distribution centers is also declining.

There are a few problems with this though:

  • Senior citizens can’t lift a case of water
  • Handicapped people can’t lift a case of water
  • With such high levels of poverty, not everyone has a car to go pick up cases of water

There are people who are all three of the above as well.

And this is what we do. We deliver water to those who are not able to get it themselves. Tomorrow, I will go into detail about what my first day was like.

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