Over the past few years we’ve seen some pretty remarkable things get paid for via crowd-funding, from movies to books, even reproductive health clinics. Now two women are using crowd-funding in a more unusual way — to pay the outstanding water bills for Detroit residents.
Nearly half of the residents of Detroit owe more than $150 on their water bills, and either have had or are in danger of having their water shut off on them due to their delinquency. Although the city has recently announced that it will be holding off on shutting off any more customers for the next few weeks in order to give some a chance to settle their bills, they have done little to actually address the reasons why they cannot pay, or offer much help to these residents to get their bills up to date.
However, as more people acknowledge that clean water is a human right, and that the city is playing favorites when it comes to keeping businesses with far greater debts hooked up while refusing to help its residents, a groundswell has begun of those looking for tangible ways to help.
Those are the reasons behind The Detroit Water Project Group, a website that verifies outstanding water bills, then matches those bills up with a donor willing to pay them. Created by Tiffani Ashley Bell and Kristy Tillman, a donor signs up on a website with his or her email address, then is provided with an account number and a past due amount. The donor then decides how much of that bill to pay, from a percentage to the entire amount. For those who want their bills paid, you can go onto the website and enter your account number to have your bill added to the list.
The website agrees to keep all donor emails confidential, meaning you can truly just be a good Samaritan, without worrying about being solicited down the road.
By Tuesday morning, the site was already a success, with founders announcing they had matched 17 residents with 70 donors. By Wednesday afternoon, the results shifted even more dramatically. “Over 1,600 donors in. We have completely zero’d out $5K in accts. You all did this for the #DetroitWater Project,” tweeted one of the founders.
There’s little doubt that residents are getting desperate. Although the shut-offs have been halted for now, that doesn’t address the needs of the thousands who already had their water turned off, and cannot afford to get it back. There are reports of trucks traveling through the city, offering to turn a resident’s water back on after a shut off for a mere $20 fee — far less than that person would be able to get away with paying on a partial bill to get his or her water reinstated. Being caught results in fines, but that’s just the beginning of the action some local communities are taking against the water shut-offs.
“Some physically obstruct the contractors,” reports The Guardian. “Others leave cars parked over their mains at night. A guide circulating online instructs people how to lock the main back on and seal it in concrete. ‘If anyone from the city or water department asks what happened: the shutoff is outside your home,’ it says. ‘Who knows what some radical did while you were asleep?’”
While resistance can be seen as justifiable to many, there is no doubt it can come with a heavy price if caught, and one that those who are already struggling with poverty and deprivation are the least likely to be able to afford. Crowd-funding water bills, meanwhile, could save hundreds or thousands from being forced to make that choice, much like they are being forced to find the money to pay delinquent bills or put food on their table.
Here’s hoping there are enough donors to make this project a success. If the city of Detroit won’t step up to end this crisis, at least the people will.
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