Flint: Odds and ends

A few subjects I wanted to touch upon before tackling the issue of trust, which is absolutely central to the Flint water crisis, in tomorrow’s post.

Reducing the list

One of the things I was asked to do on the first day, but wasn’t quite clear when it was explained to me, is that they are trying to get addresses off the list who do not require home delivery of water. The addresses on the list (no names) come from a variety of sources: Meals on Wheels (for non-US people, this is a non-profit that brings meals to elderly or handicapped people who are not capable of making their own meals), churches, neighbors pointing out people who could use the help, people who call the local 211 hotline for the Flint Water Response Team, etc. But, some of the people on the list don’t need help. They are physically healthy, have a car (and remember, the water is free), but somehow got on the list when they are completely capable of getting it themselves. Some believe they should get home delivery with all that has happened, some are just lazy. So, we’re asked to observe and make a call on this.

We turn no one down even if they pull up in a car and ask for water. We give them what they ask for, tell them that this is for those that are not able to get it themselves and ask them to call 211 and explain why they need to be added to the list.

Water hoarding

Another issue that has popped up, but not entirely surprising, is people that are hoarding water. The scene takes place like this (1 out of 10 houses, I would guess):

We ride up to a house and I jump out of the ERV cab and head purposefully up to the front door. I give a strong knock to the front door while saying in a loud voice, “Red Cross! Water delivery!” I wait a minute. I give another knock and call. After another pause, the door cracks open a little bit to see the resident peering at me from inside. I pop a grin. “Hello, I wanted to see how you were doing with water. Could you use some?” I can see the wheels slowly turning in the mind of the resident, trying to appear like they are struggling with whether they should ask for some or not. Their reply, nodding deliberately slowly, “Yeah, I could use some,” non-committal on the amount. “How many?” A long list of water uses ensues with an “About 3 or 4 cases” at the end. Keep in mind this entire conversation is occurring while I’m staring at 20-30 cases of water behind them in their living room. I find it kind of amusing, because some are just terrible actors.

The reasons for hoarding are many, I surmise. For one, people genuinely distrust anything to do with water in Flint right now. Secondly, when in stressed situations, people hoard what might be useful/valuable. Third, some people are just greedy. Like with everything human, there is a wide spectrum of behavior in reacting to such circumstances.

Water hoarding is only a problem, from how I see it, in two ways. One is the principle. It’s hard for me to stand there and watch people act like they are in desperate need of water when they have a quarter swimming pool’s worth sitting behind them (and who knows how much in the basement). It grates. It does so, not because they don’t have a right to have that water or collect it, but because it’s preventing me and other volunteers from reaching other people who are in actual need: the couple that says they only have 5 bottles left, the proud grandmother who honestly states she only needs one case a week and depends on that one case arriving (although I always leave more), the family with four children under the age of six, etc.

The second reason is sad in some instances and amusing in others. Many of the houses in Flint date back to the 1920s/30s when things started booming here. One reason there are so many fires in the houses is that the electrical systems have not been updated since then, or at most since the 1960s/70s, and can’t handle all the electronics we plug in these days. And due to age and neglect, water damage or other reasons, the floors in these houses are also weak. What has been happening is that people who have been storing lots of water in a concentrated area have had their floors collapse. Definitely had not thought of that one. Maybe karmic for some.

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