Woman who survives on rain water getting new housing
A woman who has survived for two years on rain water and charity after Detroit disconnected her water service could be in new housing soon.
Many readers have reached out to The Detroit News after it profiled Fayette Coleman and others who live without running water in an article last week. Now, an effort is coalescing to help the 66-year-old and another man featured in the article who lost his water service and cares for an adult son with severe autism.
Social services agency Southwest Solutions is arranging temporary housing for Coleman and will provide her with a Section 8 voucher and other assistance for a permanent, handicapped accessible home, said Steve Palackdharry, spokesman for the Detroit-based organization.
“We are working on a rapid rehousing program for her and hope she will be in a new place by early January,” said Palackdharry, who added the agency will also help Coleman access other services, including medical help.
In the past 12 months, 23,000 residential accounts have been shut off in Detroit. At least 4,000 of those — and likely many more — were never reconnected. Another 9,200 are eligible for disconnections now because they owe more than $150 and are 60 days overdue, according to city records.
Coleman said she’s ready to go. The former factory worker has multiple health problems and recently had a bad fall that requires her to use a cane.
“Right now, I’m just waiting and praying,” Coleman said. “I’m really tired. I don’t want to seem like one of the ones running away from the struggle, but I’m just tired of struggling.”
Water in her Delray rental was disconnected in May 2013 after it racked up more than $7,000 in bills.
She’s lived there about five years. Coleman said she believed the landlord was paying the bill because notices were mailed to her from the city that showed the account had a zero balance. Turns out, the real bill was mailed to a post office box, the landlord filed for bankruptcy and the bungalow went into foreclosure.
The Detroit Land Bank now owns the house, which may not be inhabitable.
Coleman lived on collecting water that drains from her roof into a 55-gallon garbage can. She calls it “God’s water.”
She’s also received substantial help from the Detroit Water Brigade, a grassroots group that is fighting shutoffs and provides bottled water to those with shutoffs. It has set up a GoFundMe online fundraising account to raise $1,500 to restore Coleman’s service. If she moves, the money will go for her living expenses, said Beulah Walker, a volunteer coordinator with the group.
“A lot of people have been asking for more than a week: How can we help? How can we donate?” Walker said.
The housing assistance was coordinated by City Hall and Gary Brown, the city’s Water and Sewerage director.
They also asked Wayne Metro Community Action Agency to help Billie Williams, 53, who hasn’t worked for 20 years after his wife left him to care for two children with severe autism.
One died in April. Williams went into debt to pay for the funeral, causing him to fall behind on bills. His surviving son, Garmel, is 23, nonverbal and wears adult diapers.
Their water was disconnected in November and restored Friday after a News reader in Utah read about Williams’ plight and paid $647, about half of what he owes. Her ordeal in paying the bill — which required two days of phone calls and intervention from City Hall — was recounted in a Friday article.
Wayne Metro paid the balance of Williams’ water bill, $611, and is working on paying back bills for DTE Energy, said Mia Cupp, a spokeswoman for the Wyandotte-based nonprofit.
A city-appointed panel of utility experts is expected to unveil a plan in January to make water more affordable to low-income residents. About 40 percent of the city lives in poverty and bills average $76 per month.
Some 39,000 residents are now on repayment plans of old debts that can easily push monthly charges to $150.
Brown has said the plan, which is expected to stress convenience and conservation, could be a model for the nation.
The city has $1 million in bill payment assistance for low-income residents through the Detroit Water Fund, which is administered by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Delta Faucet Co. this week announced it donated $25,000 to the program.
More money is expected to be available next year through a program by the Great Lakes Water Authority, a newly created regional agency that manages water and sewer in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. It is setting aside 0.25 percent of annual revenues to help pay bills for those whose incomes are 150 percent of the poverty level or less.
That’s expected to raise $4.5 million in its first year. That’s about a 10th of the total arrearage of Detroit residential accounts, about $43 million.