UN representatives

UN representatives at the town hall meeting

Notes from the United Nations town hall meeting at Wayne County Community College in Detroit on 10/19/2014 from 4-6pm

Meeting started with a moving rendition of ‘Deep River’ by the choir

Crowd of 800 seats pretty much filled with many people, activists, and reporters standing around the edges of the crowd

Opening speaker (from Wayne County Community College): “we need to hold on to humanity no matter the inhumanity of those who hold power…when you are robbed of your rights, you must maintain your humanity…today is a historic event, who knows what comes tomorrow”

Ann Rall: “this is not a crisis, this a long term struggle many years in the making…those in power are systematically depriving us of our human rights…we are getting more and more organized…we have a right to affordable water; water needs to be clean; no corporation or private interests have the right to privatize water; water must be held in a public trust; too many organizations to name have been fighting together; our power is starting to come together, we are going to make some changes and have human rights be respected”

Monica Lewis-Patrick: “Whose water? (crowd response) Our Water!!!”

“The work we do is not based on us at We the People of Detroit, it’s based on you because Detroit is beloved…we knocked on doors of people who paid, invested, did all the right things but still had their water shut off; we are bringing water to those people because that’s Beloved Detroit”

“We charge genocide on the President of the United States because he’s fully aware of what is happening; on Rick Snyder because he’s fully aware; on Mayor Duggan for what he’s doing to give away the right to own our own water; we charge genocide on the unelected unaccountable Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr; on all the conspirators and collaborators, those who signed consent agreements to the systematic gutting of infrastructure; the prison pipeline, the dismantling of human services; the failed leadership of Dave Bing; the Department of Transportation; the recent acts by the above named plus the barons of Wall St. created the financial crisis. WE CHARGE GENOCIDE”

Sylvia: “this event is live streaming on urbannationsradio.com; use #unindetroit to tweet or post on Facebook about the event”

Panel Introduction

Brianna Parker – student

Professor Charles

Congressman John Conyers

UN representative Leilani Farha

Professor House

UN representative Catarina de Albuquerque

Ms. Minnie Posey-Moore

Ms.  Kelly from the Michigan Citizen

Paul Corbett Brown from West Virginia

Professor Hammer from WSU

Patricia Jones from Boston

Tawana Simpson: “I am on the Detroit Board of Education that is in exile…the state has taken over public schools; the state can take children when water is shutoff; the school board has voted to disagree with the water shutoffs; we had students coming to school with no water; a school principle opened a school at 5 am so students could wash their clothes, bathe, and take care of themselves; it is WRONG what they are doing to us. We love our students and have been there through everything with them; it’s a shame we sit at the board and can’t help or do anything; that principle (who helped with provide water for students) had her school taken over and made EAA and couldn’t keep servicing students

Questions for Tawana:

Caterina: “Thanks for your testimony; the school you referred to – how many students does it have and how many kids came at 5 am?

Tawana: We don’t have access to that information because we are in exile; at the time about 4,500 attended that school; don’t know how many came in early for water, but enough to make the principle feel she should let someone know about it; note from DPS teacher – teachers on a daily basis buy water for their classrooms

(next speaker)

Gregory Price: “I live in zip code 48204; my block was hit by foreclosures and dilapidation…; we are not receiving attention from DHS – they are not trying to fix houses; 2 or 3 people have lost their house for not paying water tax – they have children; they are not receiving any services/benefits; when they receive ‘help’ it’s a bill too high to pay – that’s the payment plan! It’s a lose-lose situation; want to make sure I and my community are heard; if you can do something about it we need your help”

Leilani: “You mentioned on your block 2-3 houses have lost homes for nonpayment of water bills; where do those families go?”

Greg: “they go to shelters, live with family, friends, or neighbors, some are still in the foreclosed house with no water, lights – anything. These are elderly people and families; DHS is cutting off people’s food supplies; cutting off children being able to have food in their stomachs and go to school; these are deplorable times and the state and churches need to make sure that people are getting the assistance they need. It’s good to see people here, but need people to do more in action. Welfare Rights helped me out.”

Nicole Hill: “I have three children; my water was cutoff the first time on May 15, 2014; I’ve been battling with the water department for 2.5 years when I noticed spike in my bill; I’ve gotten no resolution or investigation; by the water department’s own admission they have billed me at a previous address from 2009; I had to let them know I was moving which I did; I needed a 0 balance to transfer my account to a new address which I did. They billed me at my previous address for at least 9 months (I haven’t lived there since 2009) – by law the property owner has 1 week after resident moves to put the account in my name; this happened end of july 2009, and the owner didn’t transfer the account until November 2011; I’ve been paying for an owner who might own more than one property. Previous payments should have transferred; they didn’t; I had an investigation done in 2012 and had no leaks (was wondering why my bill was so high). The water was cutoff for 8 weeks in 2014; they were steadily cutting off the whole neighborhood so there was nobody to ask for water; the whole block except 3 or 4 homes were cutoff. I have asked to dispute my bill or for a hearing; I was told I could get a hearing time in 2015 possibly; they continue to bill me; they billed me when the water was cut off; it was cutoff again in October despite supposedly being in a payment plan; the bill is over $6,000; they can’t explain it; I’ve paid $3,000 in the last few years; they say I must have a leak; I paid for a plumber to check and no leaks; must be in the Water Department’s pipes.”

Mary Ann Cramer: “I’m not speaking just for Detroit but for Highland Park. In Highland Park, we have been fighting the water situation since the early 2000’s; 2-3 years ago they transferred our water to Detroit without the knowledge of the people of Detroit or city council. The mayor was doing bidding of the governor; we were not receiving water bills; I went to city council to find out why; knew the bills would be put on property taxes, and they would come after the houses; found out Bing had been told to not bill people in Highland Park by the governor – are they setting us up for failure? We asked them will they pay retroactive bills or push us forward – it’s not our fault; we did that at three different city council meetings; first they said would go retroactive and not cutoff water; third time he said he had been told by an attorney there is a law that prevents him from not being able to stop shutoffs and you have to pay your bills; the first bill I received was a year later for $1,500 in 6 months it was over $2,000 and now over $3-4,000. Human Rights set up an escrow account because we were told we don’t have accurate water meters; we are paying what we think we need to pay; Michigan legal services is representing us; we still don’t have a plan worked out”

Commissioner Robinson: “Highland Park has its own intake system shared with Grosse Pointe, the governor would love to take over the water”

Tawana Morris: “I am a retired police officer. I have some serious problems; I lost my home; the insurance company took so long to cut off my home insurance for a burnt-out home; I was paying for two insurances and living in apartment; I have to pay $1,500/month to have the same insurance I did before the emergency manager cut it off. MWRO helps people; houses could be rehabbed; people would have a home who need it – they cost $500 per house and people on section 8 are paying $8-900/month and could have a home! Banks put people out of houses – they should pay – they made YOU pay so they should pay taxes too”

Leilani: “I haven’t been here too long, but in short period of time have been struck by how many housing issues are confronting people in Detroit and African Americans and people with low income. Our visit is focused on water but I am listening attentively to housing issues whether directly related or not; I’ve begun a discussion with community organizers about how we can do something broader”

Menyan Jennings: “I’ve been a community worker for 40 years; I worked with the Coleman Young administration and other administrations and other groups; I am a disabled GM worker; I’ve struggled for many years in this city; the city went from sugar to sourdough; I am single and live alone; was able to meet obligations at one time, then my income changed; I live below the poverty level but still try; I rob Peter to pay Paul. People ask me: what changed in your household? The answer is money. Water payment problems started. My bill was paid by rich people I don’t even know who I found on the internet. I made an application and people paid my water bill. I have here a shutoff notice from January to February. It has $394 dollars for sewage and $150 for the water bill. I have no leaks, I asked plumbers to check because the water bill has no business being so high. My home was in jeopardy last year, a $3,000 water bill for one year is crazy. I think something needs to be done. Your plan A is to listen; I hope your plan B is dynamite to help us”

Caterina: “I would love to see your bill; have you complained or did you go to customer service? Did you ask how I can have this high bill?”

“We don’t have dynamite available; we were appointed by UN member states and given certain powers but not fabulous; the states that created us are the states we are criticizing. We have normal jobs and we are doing this in our free time pro-bono; we’re making recommendations to the government at press conference tomorrow to raise publicity – don’t have too high expectations for us”

Menyan: “When you go to customer service you can start with the first person who’s not the right person, next thing you know you’ve talked to 10 people and none were the right people. In other words, I didn’t get any help. I now have a bill for $1,300 on taxes with the treasurer. I have attended every meeting to talk about water bills in city. Adjustments (to my bill) have been promised but not done.”

‘Commissioner’ Rafael Robinson: “I raised the issue of wasted water in a board meeting; people got quiet; ‘we are in business to make money’ they said; the issue is millions of gallons of water are wasted by letting water mains run; basements are full of water because of incorrectly done shutoffs; repairs for water mains get neglected because of costs. American Water Works Association provides water to developing countries; maybe they can help us”

Caterina: “We talked to people who had water shutoffs; this came up again and again: if a water main is leaking millions of gallons, who pays for this? (crowd: We do!) Are they divided up by people? Don’t bills show how much you are consuming?

Robinson: “It is paid for by ratepayers; the burden falls on Detroiters”

Caterina: “Bills say how much was consumed; the bill of a woman in a hospital had 0 consumption; how is she contributing to leakage? What is the evidence?”

Robinson: “Residents can have their meter tested for over or under consumption; they can look at records or get a free meter test – this information is not given to the public”

Others: “It is difficult to tell on your bill if you are paying for leakages”

Leilani: “If you are homeless because of a water shutoff, where do you go? Are homeless shelters available? for families? are they packed and not accessible? A new law makes squatting criminal offense. Need to hear options for people losing homes.”

Avatara: “The options are gone; land banks are selling properties, they are given to wealthier people buying 10-12 properties at a time”

Barbara: “Shutoffs are a problem because we need dignity. You give a cat or dog water. There are no shelters and people go to neighbors for water. My water bill went up $600 in one month because people in neighborhood need water (she has been sharing her water with other people in the neighborhood). I’m not going to turn away people coming for water. There is a history of corruption, no accountability and monopoly. It’s a genocide because they are turning the right to survive into a crime. You can’t have a neighborhood organization if there are no people in the neighborhood. You have no leverage because there no resources or water. You have a city of transients who don’t care about you if there is no neighborhood. If you treat people like animals you can only expect them to behave like animals”

Question from panel: “Your water bill went up to $600 in one month, you’re not going to take any measures. Are people sharing your water?”

Barbara: “I had to replace my outside faucet because it was broken from so many people using it”

Sylvia: “It takes bravery for people to tell their stories; please have patience and compassion”

Marilyn: “I’m thankful to be here. Am a mother of 6 and grandmother of 7. I was raised here. I’m law abiding; and a voter. It’s hard to find affordable housing. The house I live in has mold; I can’t find help; if you have no income, you’re nothing. You’re treated like animal in shelters. I lived at a bus stop. I feel less than a human being as a mother. Do you know how it feels to use restroom for water? It’s going to kill my spirit because we have nowhere to go, we are treated like animals; I never heard of no water in my life. But I’m going to keep hope, and I have it because Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) are only ones who helped me and gave me hope.

Valerie Jean: “On July 14, 2014 my entire neighborhood had its water shutoff; it left children without water. An 86 yr old neighbor’s water was shutoff for 11 days and almost died; she has not recovered enough to come today. I refused to let them shutoff my water. I have 5 kids. A neighbor with 6 kids without water worries about their kids being taken. Kids can’t brush teeth; mothers can’t cook. We can’t have fear to survive and have our kids taken. Neighbors can’t help each other when the whole neighborhood is shutoff. It’s economical to shutoff a lot of houses at once. When people don’t have water they die. 2 houses were left in a three block radius not shutoff. I just told them no. Their message is get out and die. I stood over the water access point and said no, and they didn’t shut it off. My area is slated for gentrification. The M1 rail is coming to the neighborhood but won’t pick up neighborhood people. I live on the North End.”

Sharon Sexton: “I do not want a smart meter in my house; they said I have to have it; these meters are dangerous; could cause thyroid cancer according to the Internet; water bills are estimated at $1,000’s more than the actual bill. You have to sign a paper to not challenge your bill; we are paying thousands over what we should be. Suburban people don’t need meters in houses. Poor blacks and others have to have cancer causing meters”

Leilani: “Can you explain the dispute waiver?”

Sharon: “I came to Cobo Hall to talk about my bills but had to sign a paper saying that I would not dispute my bill”

Caterina: “What are smart meters?”

Sharon: “They are supposed to save water department from having to come to the house to check the meter”

Panel Question: “I’ve heard the smart meters have the power to push a button and shutoff water remotely. Is this the case in Detroit?”

Sharon (and Maureen): “Yes”

Panel Question: “What happens if you don’t sign the agreement?”

Sharon: “I have to have the meter anyway and they are threatening to shutoff my water”

Angela: “I got water a bill for $4,000. It was an accumulation of 6 months. I couldn’t afford the first bill. I kept receiving bills; the highest was $780 for one month. I have no leaks and live in a single family home. No way me and my family could acquire a bill so high. I disputed the bill; they said they saw current flow and it was my fault. There is an abandoned home across the street with water running over a year; I tried to get it shutoff. I asked if my bill was connected to the home across the street. They said residents are responsible for the accumulation of back billing and other mishaps in water department. My water was shutoff for 11 days. I had to pay $1,100 and roll over more to property tax. I live with infants and a paralyzed, mute grandmother. I paid it and put $1,200 to property tax. I am still in dispute the and problems are not resolved. I tried to pay the bill and they said I couldn’t get a bill. The water department is incompetent, and now so many people are fighting because their water is being turned off”

Ms. Stewart: “My water was turned off when I was out of town and had paid my bill. I had sent a check in the mail and it was apparently not processed – it was not applied until 30 days later; it was $390, and I paid it but they said the water was off. I had just taken a shower, but they told me it was off. The meter was destroyed and it can’t be read. I owe $175 which is too low to get on a payment plan. They told me to just paid $50 and go home. How can 90+ year old people get places to pay their bills? Now I can’t get a bill, and the bill never goes down. It costs money to investigate a home and check a meter. I was charged $30 for my water to be turned off – but it didn’t really get turned off. I’m on fixed income but paid the money anyway. People are leaving homes because they don’t have water. The sewage bill is too high. I have a $175 sewage bill for $30 of water use and am almost never home.”

Cecily McLellan: “DWRAP was dismantled by Dave bing in 2012, and also DHS”

Atpeace: “I am a single mother of 5 children. My water was cutoff three times. I had a bill from the previous owner for a home I moved into. I didn’t have money and no water for a couple weeks. A year and a half later they wanted to put a meter in my house. I denied them access and then my water was cutoff for a few weeks until I allowed them to put a meter in. I didn’t pay the bill and my water was shutoff with no ability to make any arrangements to pay the bill. Arrangements are not based on income, so how can you afford it? I went to the affordability fair – there were police officers at the door with pistols, and tanks (it was intimidating). They didn’t let my advocate go in. I offered to make a payment and couldn’t pay on their terms. I didn’t sign the stipulation to not contest my bill. They shutoff a community center a week early”

Ms. Robinson: “I’m here on behalf of my son. He received a $6,000 bill. He had been fighting it for some time. He did the protocol and had documentation to show he didn’t owe it. He was told it would be added onto his home; he fought for 3 or 4 months and took showers at my house. Finally decided he was going to have to pay it.”


Download a PDF of these notes here: UN Notes