A middle-aged African-American couple from Mount Morris must put their relationship on hold to take care of their 76-year-old father. Clyde Morris, a merchandise worker, makes a 15-minute trip to Flint, Michigan every other day to bring his father clean bottled water and daily necessities. Noreen Lewis, Clyde’s partner, recently lost her mother due to unrelated health issues but continues to support Clyde in caring for his father. Clyde and Noreen assist in bathing, cooking and cleaning for Clyde’s father.
Even though the water crisis has affected this couple’s future plans of moving out of Flint for the next two years, it’s not a topic of discussion amongst friends. They’re not alone. Across Flint in March 2017, people like Clyde Morris’s father can’t drink the water or safely bathe in it without risking a rash and struggle to find housing and food.
The driving force for change to the water crisis in Flint is through the people.
“People don’t trust the government. If you don’t trust what’s there then how are you going to step up in their place,” said Terence Muhammad, Advocacy Manager for the Hip Hop Caucus.
“The water was like the icing on the cake,” Lewis said. “Flint had been messed up for so long with the schools closing, businesses being torn down and our neighborhoods being down to one or two houses. We have adapted to being one of the most dangerous cities to live in, so the water crisis was just another thing that we had to adapt to. Flint should’ve been in the national spotlight a long time ago before this water thing came about,” said Noreen Lewis.
However, there are some signs of progress. From 2010-2012, Flint was one of America’s most dangerous cities to live in based on FBI crime statistics of violent crimes per capita. However, according to the Detroit Police Department, the total number of reported violent crimes has dropped by almost 3,500 cases. Recently in 2016, there were 597 offense accounts of violent crimes and 568 accounts reported this year. Despite its decline in violent crime per capita, there is still room for improvement.
It’s not only family members who are reaching out to help the people of Flint, many of whom are elderly people, in the wake of the government’s neglect.
Coalitions like Flint Rising, an advocacy fund, are working with community organizations to ensure that the impacted citizens of Flint are building the organizing infrastructure and leadership necessary for justice for Flint families.
“My mother was advised by her doctor not to stay in Flint because of her chronic spinal pain. She doesn’t currently live in Flint but still has to pay her water bill,” said Susan Whalen, Flint Rising Volunteer.
The water crisis has also affected the poor and destitute citizens of Flint.
“I was approved to find Section 8 housing through BECKA Management by April 8th but I haven’t been able to find housing for the second year now. I get a housing voucher, but it always runs out so I re-apply. I am living in an abandoned house and I use about a case of water every two weeks. No one’s is really helping me find housing. I have to do this on my own,” said James Frye, 57-year-old Flint resident.
Many citizens are simply dismissing the topic from entering everyday conversations with friends and family.
“We got friends that we visit often and the water crisis isn’t even a conversation that we have had. Everybody is just dealing with it day by day,” said Clyde Morris, Mount Morris resident.
Like many Michigan residents outside of Flint, Clyde Morris and Noreen Lewis aren’t directly affected by the water crisis but want to be involved in community events that’ll force government officials to bring a solution.
“The people will come together once they see that the government is really doing something. What can we do without them making a move first,” said Morris.
Some of the citizens of Michigan aren’t motivated to lead a change due to years of political corruption without community representation.
“A lot of times we go to the powers that be to bring change but it never came from the powers that be. Our civil rights never came from the powers that be, it came from the masses and the people,” said Muhammad.
Amidst all the crisis, the couple is worried that the media’s perception of Flint is not accurate or truly a representation of what Flint is like.
“The inner city is the heart of Flint. The media isn’t going to the inner city at all. They are choosing the poorest and most ignorant to push their own motives,” said Clyde.
Legislative change is vital in regaining the trust of Flint citizens.
“To comfortably leave my 76-year-old father in Flint, a new mayor must be elected,” said Clyde.
Coalitions like Flint Rising have identified three needs that Flint residents have that should be addressed by the Michigan Legislature; replacing the damaged service lines using Flint workers, complete reimbursement for water bill payments dating back to April 2014 and health and education services for all children, adults and seniors in the community.
“Flint Rising was created by the residents of Flint without any funding. I joined Flint Rising because people need help right now. Water credits only covered a portion of water bills and citizens still had to pay sewage rates, which were raised at the same time,” said Whalen.
Despite the changes that need to be made executively and locally, Clyde and Noreen are glad that progress has been made in Flint.
“You can get free water almost anywhere in the city. You can get filters and cartridges if you run out,” said Clyde.
Even though bottled water and filters are available for citizens, others feel like they may be a distraction from addressing the longevity of the effects from the water crisis.
“Filters are a bandage; they won’t solve the problem. The state is trying to sweep this under the rug and not really help the community,” said Whalen.
The issue of contaminated water isn’t a new issue and goes beyond Flint.
“People in Georgia, Mississippi and even New Jersey are dealing with water issues. The issue alone is a violation of human rights. The fact that I even buy bottled water in the store back home, I’m dealing with the same issue,” said Muhammad
The water crisis has forced Flint residents and family members to deal with the financial and emotional toll of living with unclean water for at least two more years.
“It’s exhausting to uncap every single bottle of water to cook and wash dishes. We’re tired of dealing with that every day,” said Whalen.
Despite the turmoil, the citizens of Flint are staying strong and persistent.
“Life goes on. People still have to work and send their kids to school, we are all just trying to survive,” said Noreen.