Detroit People’s Platform Calls on Public Health Officer to Take Action Against Water Shutoffs


Written by People’s Platform

Water shutoffs in Detroit have been garnering media attention (this oped and this article). The People’s Platform, which Building Movement Project has been helping to coordinate this past year, put out the letter below to call for an end to water shutoffs.

Vernice Anthony, Director
Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion

Dear Ms. Anthony,

The People’s Platform is a network of organizations including in its membership block clubs, community councils, neighborhood associations and a number of advocates and activist from across the seven city council districts in Detroit.  The People’s Platform is dedicated to working with residents to create healthy, vibrant, and sustainable neighborhoods across the city of Detroit by focusing on the following key issues: equitable land use policy; access to food and transportation; good jobs; and good governance.    At our annual meeting on June 9th 2014, delegates to the People’s Platform adopted a sixth issue area to include poverty and inequality with a focus on the water shutoffs occurring across the city of Detroit.  We are particularly concerned about the impact of household water shutoffs on the most vulnerable of our community members – the elderly and minor children.

This aggressive collection action could not come at a worse time for Detroiters in terms of what the economic picture looks like for many residents.   Cuts to worker pensions, increased out of pocket cost for retiree health care and high rates of unemployment among the general population speaks to the overall financial insecurity that exist within households.  Also, our research indicates that 44% of Detroit residents live at or below the federal poverty line in comparison to 20.7% of Michigan residents statewide. That number translates into nearly a quarter million African Americans.  Further, according to census data roughly 10% of residents ages 55-64, live in extreme poverty and 50% overall live below the federal poverty level.  When it comes to children the numbers are equally as compelling.  Slightly more than half of Detroit children (50.6%) live at or below the federal poverty level compared to 22.1 % of children across the state.  We believe that the data illustrates the financial hardships these households endure on a daily basis.

Recently the Detroit and Water Sewage Department (DWSD) launched the most aggressive shutoff and collection campaign in the history of the department.   According to press accounts the department has pledged to shut off and disconnect from the city water supply an average of 1500 to 3000 households per week with an overall target of 30,000 households during the next several months.   We believe that this policy of water shutoff as a collection strategy in addition to posing serious ethical issues, also has serious public health impacts.  For example, shutoffs create unsanitary conditions leading to the transmission of dangerous bacteria contributing to increased UTIs; gastrointestinal problems; hepatitis A; influenza; and other diseases that are linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.   Household water shutoffs also exacerbate adverse mental health conditions in the home and is likely to bring about anxiety, anger, depression and other post-traumatic stress disorder like symptoms. Further, we are concerned that the notice of water shutoff which signals by public health code that the residence is unfit for human habitation, will also trigger a child welfare crisis potentially leading to the removal of children from the home under the orders of the child protective services.

We agree with the premise that the basis of public health is to protect and improve the health of the masses of the people. Dr. George Pickett, former Detroit Public Health Director, offered that public health should be used as a creative tool for the prevention of disease and the promotion of health.   Therefore we call for the following considerations:  

  •  As Public Health Officer for the City of Detroit, advise the mayor of the potential threat to public health in the face of the widespread water shutoffs;
  •  As Public Health Officer for the City of Detroit call for a moratorium on all water shutoffs;
  •  Recommend that as a matter of public policy a health impact assessment be conducted on the impact of water shutoffs on the population’s health with an analysis as to how these conditions further contribute to racial health inequities

We applaud your long time commitment to public service and your contribution to the important policy discussions at the local, state and national level on improving the health of the community. It is with that expertise in mind that we call upon you to once again bring your voice and leadership into the forefront on behalf of those  who stand in need.   Please advise us if we can be of further assistance in this effort. 


George D. Gaines, MPH, MSW  
People’s Platform     
Former Deputy Director Detroit Health Department  

Linda S. Campbell, MPH
People’s Platform     
Building Movement Project

Brother Jerry Smith
Executive Director
Capuchin Soup Kitchen of Detroit

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