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The Dead of Winter, Continued

Winter continues to take its toll on poor families in Detroit, forcing desperate actions and risky choices onto those least equipped to bear the brunt of subzero temperatures and pounding snowfalls. As I've said before, if it's not the cold that kills you, then it's the very tools used to stay ahead of the cold, the cheap electric blankets or treacherous space heaters or jury-rigged power boxes.

In January, for instance, two elderly brothers and a 58-year-old woman died in house fire believed to have started as a result of a space heater. An 81-year-old man died and his 41-year-old son was left in critical condition in February after a fire erupted at their home, which they were trying to heat with space heaters and an over. Now, three children are dead, two others are in critical condition and four others barely escaped alive, after a blaze ravaged their west side home on Tuesday -- not long after their mother had left the house to go buy space heaters.

The deaths have whipped up intense passions among some of Detroit's most outspoken grassroots leaders, who say the tragedies have occurred largely because local utility giant DTE callously severs, or refuses to restore, electricity and gas service to poor residents during the hard winter months. One group, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, called for a protest today at DTE headquarters in downtown Detroit.

“DTE must turn on service for everyone, establish a moratorium on shut-offs, and develop affordable service plans for low-income people," MWRO president Marian Kramer was quoted as saying last month. "For over 10 years, MWRO has attended the funerals of seniors, mothers, babies and other poor people after they died while trying to stay warm in their homes.”

On the flip side, DTE, which touts its assistance programs for low-income customers as examples of its efforts to prevent tragic service interruptions, denies any responsibility for the deaths. And, at least in the case of Tuesday's blaze, the company is suggesting that jury-rigged attempts to stay ahead of the shutoffs may have played a role in the fire...

Scott Simons, DTE spokesman, said a previous resident had DTE cut off services to the home Dec. 11. No one had asked for it to be restored since then, he said.

Simons said the incident was a clear case of utility theft: DTE workers found the cut locks from the electric meter box on the ground outside of the burned home Wednesday morning.

Look, I don't doubt that there are many at DTE who want to work better with poor customers to stem horrible accidents like these fires. And I get that the company is in business to make a profit, not to give away gas and heat. But even in a down economy DTE clocked more than $2 billion in revenue last year, while losing about $100 million due to power thefts.

And while I get that losses in business aren't cool, losing human beings is far more unacceptable. And right now, that's what's happening. Our people are dying out there — our children, our elderly, our disabled.

So DTE needs to do a whole lot more to help prevent these deaths. And, yes, in the face of winters like ours, that includes restoring service even to those who can afford it the least (or not all) -- because no one should have to pay with his or her life.

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  • 1

    Nicely put Darryl,

    And don't forget how much money they threw at Kwame, thinking that they were helping black people.

    Nutty as it gets.

    But I would also spread the blame:

    The City does not have a legitamate City Planning Commission headed by someone who is concerned about proper planning with a background in Planning and Architecture.

    And the State Housing Authority has abrogated it's mandate for quite a few years now. How many townhouse projects have gone up in Detroit in the past ten years?

    Look, the housing stock with those old baloon frame houses is dangerous to deadly. A good City Planner would have long ago outlined the housing stock that was is poor condition and slated it for mass demolition and coordinated that effort with MSHDA in order to get those people into housing appropriate for this day and age. Was it done? No. Was Kwame concerned? No. Was Archer Concerned and did he know what to do? No.

    Someone has to step up. Bing? I doubt it. Does he know what I am saying? Probably not.

    Datat Driven Detroit is on the right track. They need also to provide population curves for each district.

    But there is a really great writer over in the Free Press and mabye Chastity can get to it. ;D


  • 2

    There is a larger issue (there allways is) here. Detroit will not move forward if it does not collectively understand how economics work.

    I hear the argument that a strapped company is being expected to provide service for free. My tax dollars have bailed out 3 Institutions in your area upon which your ecomomy depended. These institutions were regulated and pushed and demanded of in ways that turned out not to be sustainable. Collapse was inevitable. And here we are again relying on the same tired expectation that DTE should do what is likely not in the interest of its customers, employees, and stakeholders.

    Doing the same thing over and over with the expectation of a different result is insanity. Darrly, don't stand here on your stage and give the rest of the country more reasons to write your town off. If you want people to have heat, then pay for their heat don't expect a company already trying to help in some way to forget that it needs to survive. Because if it didnt nobody would have heat.

  • 3

    Really don't shut off gas during the winter months? Right on I'm gonna get me some free gas, ha ha ha!

    Not really this is a tragedy really, an misguided mother had an unfortunate event happen to her family due to the ignorance of herself and who ever re-hooked up her service. Should people really get for free what we all have to pay for? No, I don't think so at all. Is it societies fault that this happened, is it the power companies fault, all are a no.

    All the blame lies in the lap of those who are supposed to be taking care of the children in the first place. I feel sorry for the children that they had to live like they did, That none of the relatives were there to help, but a lesson has been learned here, Don't steal, don't leave your kids at home alone, and pay your bills and lead a productive life, if not for your self do it for your children. This is one accident that could have very easily been avoided. DTE should prosecute her for theft and the state should take her children.

    Any one that puts the blame of a failed life onto the heads of corporation or even on society needs to have their hears examined. Why should people who work hard for what they get have to pay for those who can not? Who gave people the right to screw up their lives and expect others to pay for their mistakes in life.

    I have to say that I am tired of people who will blame others instead of them selves for the tragedies that befall them.

    She left her kids at home for christ sake... If she was a responsible parent she would have taken them with her, but no she LEFT THEM in a dangerous condition, and they DIED. I should only hope that the screams of her children haunt her for the rest of her pathetic life. Those poor children, My heart hurts to think of what happened to them.

    To her and who ever helped hook the power back up, you are both killer's, and thief's, you are a drain on society as a whole. I should hope you rot and that your remaining children are taken away form you, as you have shown the public you can not perform as a parent. POS.

  • 4

    Sorry for misspelling your name Darryll.

    Looks like we have a couple of comments here by people who would like to start up the furnaces.

    Society has to solve certain problems when the individual can't handle them. We are our brother's keeper, like it or not.

    We can build highly energy efficient houses now, even ones that can provide their own energy.

    Time to step forward and build them.

    I live in Lafayette Park in the Mies Townhouses and after 55 years they are still quite good, poorly manitained in some ways, but next gen versions could be astonishing in both function, utility, and beauty.

    Although architects and sociologists come from around the world to see our place and admire it, now is the time to step up and get going on new paradigm habitats.

    If we don't do it, who will? And when?


    • 4.1

      I love that you have a long-term solution that includes better living conditions. Kudos! :)

  • 5

    niajaxord: You've obviously been lucky to have never been poor because you clearly possess no empathy. You are so eager to write Detroit off by equating shutting off people's heat with the auto bailout. Let's not forget about all the federal money that went to Wall Street and the economic boom going on in DC since the change in office.

    A lot of the people living in old city housing stock pay a small fortune for heat. This is not just Detroit, but all poor folks in all major cities. Their houses are poorly insulated at best. A relative of mine was recently paying over $300 a month to heat a 1 bedroom apartment! If you're making minimum wage or even a little over that, $300 is a lot of money every month.

    I recognize that DTE has to cover their costs and should not give gas away, but more has to be done to insure that it is not cheaper to get dangerous electric/kerosene heaters rather than pay your bill or pay for better insulation. The events cited in the article are proof that DTE's programs to help the poor, as a ratio to their profits, are just lip service and a flimsy band-aid at best.

    The fact that DTE is a for-profit company with an effective monopoly is another matter....

    • 5.1

      OK, you are right in the fact that I have never been poor, I take issue with the stance that I have written off Detroit. I see some paralells between the Auto regulations over the history of the industry and the idea that we should push a profit seeking firm into an unprofitable situation. I hear a lot of repetitive blame being foisted and pushed around and it doesn't solve anything. Business is not the enemy.

      Could solutions lie in creating urban housing with the mandate that they use sustainable sources such as geothermal heat (removing DTE from the equation) in the building/retrofitting process? Forcing any new building to meet strict efficiency rules? How about an entirely self sustained area wouldn't that be cool?

      How do we remove a profit seeking firm from the equation without substituting it with a government program that will serve to be another drain?

      As long as we blame a profit seeking organization for seeking profits there will be issues. If we expect the government to correct our mistakes we will find that the corrections are not in the long-term best interest of the supposed beneficaries.

  • 6

    ...Look! Many people have been /or are poor. Some , for a lack of a better word are "smart-asses " who would STEAL whether they had money for beer or cigarettes or cable. OTHER would NEVER STEAL no matter if they had to double or triple up with relatives, or Church Members. AGAIN, neither scenario is acceptable!...NEITHER SCENARIO!..Stealing is wrong!...Being left to groveling fo heat is WRong!..Welfare Rights Groups ..Did you hear your name WELFARE RIGHTS?.. No one has a right to Welfare! ....Welfare is a last ditch attempt to keep the "wolves" on the other side of the door!..BUT!! SOCIETY AS A WHOLE DOES HAVE THE OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE A WAY FOR ALL ITS MEMBERS TO WORK AND HAVE SELF 'WORTH' Perhaps instead od WELFARE Workfare should be used. THAT ASIDE, DTE CONSUMERS, Whoever, SHOULD auto matically Figure out The worse Winter Case Scenario AND BE ALLOWED to state THAT 10%, whatever, of any rate increase is strictly for unemployed-Underemployed -Workfare-Disabled citizens. ONLY!..No BS! BUT REMBER!..THERE has always been members of Society who are THIEVES!!! RICH..POOR..Welfare... Middle-Class..Don't confuse NEED with politics!! Everyone is mad about citizens dying because of shutoffs! But some thieves(I'm NOT SAYING THIS HAS BEEN CASE LATEKLY..I'M NOT!!). Charge helpless homeowners renters to illegally hook-up meters! WE ALL Have heard it! $100,000,000!! Those dollars aren't from "POOR" PEOPLE!! Welfare RIGHTS GROUPS!?..That's BS. TOO!

    • 6.1

      Hi davebailey-

      You are very passionate about this. And I find it interesting that you are so angry about "thieves." I personally believe that there are times when it is acceptable to steal - and freezing to death is one of those exceptions. If I were in that situation I am not sure what I would do - but I would do anything if my children were suffering.

      Oh - and there are a lot of "thieves" out there who do it quite legally and take from the poor to give to the rich. Credit card companies, banks, and cash advance companies. As Woodie Guthrie said, "Some can rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen."

      A little empathy in this world would be a good thing.

  • 7

    PSS...Catholic Churches, Baptist, other Protestant Churches, Storefront Churches, Synagogues, Islamic "churches'..ALL SHOULD HOLD SPECIAL COLLECTIONS just for this reason!..I know all good congregations already do this, BUT AN organized Sunday, SABBATH, whatever, would really highlight this need and could come up with a permanent , acceptable, solution! PSSS..My Dad grew up, and his folks lived in , basiclly an unheated, no electricity 'til later, no inside plumbing..Yikes!..NO INSIDE plumbing , even drinking water,..'house'..ia is right !! use the genius of architectural design to incorporate THE LATEST energy-synergy-conservation techniques! And not just 180 house a year! 50,000 or 60,000 a year 'til all homes-apts. EVERYWHERE ARE DONE!!

    • 7.1

      To ALL!..To paraphrase Jesus(If I can be so self-righteous!)...'..the poor will always be with you, but I won't be...'..THE RICH WILL ALWAYS BE WITH well as their POLITICS...Man!...That sucks!...

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