SW Detroit Community Care Cleans Basements after Historic Flooding

The SW Detroit Community Care team poses for a group photo after cleaning southwest Detroit residents’ basements. Photo by Jesus Arzola-Vega courtesy of SW Detroit Community Cares

By Matt Harmon

FLOW’s Milliken Intern for Communications

As the Earth’s atmosphere continues to increase in temperature due to human-caused climate change, scientists agree that we will see once-rare weather events happen more and more frequently. 

On the heels of the “once in 100 years” flooding event in 2014, nearly seven inches of rainfall overwhelmed the City of Detroit’s wastewater treatment facilities on Friday, June 25, and the following morning. As a result, rain and sewer water flooded basements all across the city. Bridge Detroit reported that the Detroit Water and Sewage Department received more than 75,000 calls about flooded basements.

Many Detroiters remember the flooding from August 11, 2014, when four to six inches of rain fell over a four-hour period. Not only have Detroiters seen more rainfall this year than they did in 2014, but residents had no way to prepare for the oncoming rain. Forecasters predicted less than two inches of rain prior to the flooding.

As soon as neighbors began reporting flooded basements, organizers with SW Detroit Community Care (SWDCC), a mutual aid coalition operating within Southwest Detroit, sprang into action, recruiting volunteers through social media to clean basements for whomever needed it. FLOW sat down with SWDCC organizers Angela Gallegos and Eric Finkler after they spent a day cleaning basements with a group of volunteers to discuss their efforts, mutual aid, and how best to support their community.

What is mutual aid? To Finkler, mutual aid is “community assistance, when people in the community step up to help the community at large.” Gallegos added that mutual aid fills a need even when we’re not in times of crisis, as its job is to act “as a family, as an extension, as a helping hand.”

According to Dean Spade, author of the book, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), mutual aid is “based on a shared understanding that the crises we are facing are caused by the system that we’re living under, and are worsened by those systems.”

SWDCC was created by a group of organizers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the organization’s basement-cleaning effort recognizes the precarious financial position in which the pandemic has placed individuals.

“A lot of people didn’t have emergency funds saved up, and they lost their washer, their dryer, their water heater, maybe their heater, so finding out how to get those appliances has been an ask. They definitely need clean-up support,” said Gallegos. “They have family that can help them, but their family is getting their own basement situated. Every day that passes, mold can build up, so it’s a mess and they need help cleaning it up.”

Gallegos and Finkler discussed residents’ need for “immediate remediation.” Their organization uses an online form as one means for residents to convey their needs and request help.

Fortunately, it may not rest entirely on the tenants of a rental property to fix their basements. According to an Emergency Order from the City of Detroit’s Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department on the Michigan Mutual Aid Coalition’s Instagram, the flooded basements are “an imminent danger to public health and safety under Section 8-15-42 of the 2019 Detroit City Code.”

As such, the order mandates that landlords have until July 19 to make sure there is no standing water in basements, that drains are clear of debris, that the flooded area be cleaned and sanitized, that a functional hot water tank and furnace be installed, that the electric panel be operable, and that all trash be removed.

As SWDCC moves forward with providing for neighbors, Gallegos said there are multiple ways those in and out of Detroit could support their efforts. Those interested in donating items can follow the SWDCC social media channels on Instagram and Facebook where they will post specific requests from residents. If you are interested in volunteering, Gallegos recommended sending a direct message to their social media accounts so they can coordinate volunteers. If you would like to donate monetarily, SWDCC has a Venmo account set up (@swcares) where they transfer direct funds to residents.

“There’s so much that we’re trying to figure out how to help after the cleanup,” Gallegos said.

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