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Flint volunteer: "The joke is, 'We're not from the government, we're here to help you.'"

Ann Arbor resident Michael Hood from Crossing Water
Mercedes Mejia
Michigan Radio

One positive aspect of the Flint water crisis has been the thousands of people from across Michigan, and around the country, who have stepped forward to help – whether donating to various charities or stepping up to help first-hand.

There are volunteers going door-to-door trying to help city residents make sense of all of the confusion. Over the last few months, people living in Flint have been inundated with messages, alerts and warnings about what to do with their water, what not to do, what resources may, or may not be, available to them. People like Michael Hood, the co-director of the volunteer group Crossing Water, are doing their part by working at water distribution centers and knocking on doors, among many other things.

Credit John Sellek / Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
This billboard in Flint was created by Crossing Water.

“We’re doing lots of first-line crisis intervention stuff, emergency relief,” said Hood, who works as a wilderness survival instructor. “We’re doing water distribution and water education. If you can believe this, there are folks in the field, in their homes, that do not know the water has lead in it to this day.”

In addition to going door-to-door and helping Flint residents directly, Crossing Water has engaged in public awareness campaigns as well.

“There’s a great deal of distrust for the government,” said Hood. "The joke is, 'We're not from the government, we're here to help you.' But that's the truth of it."

Hood says one challenge was convincing people they shouldn't boil the water. "And that’s why we had over 22 billboards put up all over the Flint area … we also had PSAs put on local radio, all the TV stations, we had 15,000 flyers put out, we went to every door in low-income neighborhoods," Hood said, adding that the billboards were made in English and Spanish.  

Hood says there is a lot of anger among Flint residents for what has happened, but for him, he said he’s been touched by the gratitude that people have shown, even if he doesn’t think it's necessary.

“Overwhelmingly, the response has been really positive, people are very grateful, almost to tears in many cases,” said Hood. “The sad part about that is that these people shouldn’t be grateful. These are things that government should be doing for people, so to have them be grateful to us for bringing them basic things like water, food … it’s wonderful to be on the receiving end of that, but I need to let folks know that they’re not entitled to be grateful, they don’t need to be grateful. This is something we should be doing for them as a matter of being taxpayers and citizens of the state of Michigan.”           

During his interview on Stateside, Hood was asked how he feels about the water crisis and everything he has encountered during his time on the ground. The answer provoked an emotional response from the Ann Arbor resident.

“I’m angered that these people have been deserted,” said Hood. “They’re left to their own devices. It’s like people camping in their own homes. People’s water heaters have broken down because of the corrosion in there. People have been taking showers and baths with cold water for a year … you have folks who are on public assistance and they have a very little financial pad, and they use that pad to buy water every day. Then they have to decide: Do I buy food? Do I buy medicine? Do I pay my heating bill? Do I pay my water bill? For water that is poison to them. This keeps me up. This makes me angry as hell that this hasn’t been addressed still at this point is mind-blowing to me.”

While groups like Crossing Water are working long hours and making a lot of progress, they still have a laundry list of needs.

“We need everyone … send everything you’ve got,” said Hood. “We need regular laborers, we need social workers … we also desperately need [registered nurses], we need doctors, pediatricians, psychologists, plumbers, skilled trades folks, we’re looking for folks with pickup trucks … front end loaders, fork trucks, delivery vehicles, we’re looking for folks who own property, warehouses, things we can store water in a climate-controlled environments, we’re looking for space to put a clinic in town, we’re looking for businesses to help partner with us so we can get cell phones and laptops so we can do this job better and stronger … we haven’t turned away a single volunteer.”

Listen to the full interview below to hear the issues people are having with their home water filters, the various ways that Crossing Water is helping and what you can do to help.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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