Person to Person: Here's How to Help Detroiters With Unpaid Water Bills

July 21, 2014, 10:25 PM by  Alan Stamm

While other rant and chant about Detroit residential water shutoffs for past-due bills, two young women offer a way to put up or shut up.

Delinquent customers enter bill details at the new site, but potential donors don't see their identities.

"Turn on Detroit's Water is a website that matches donors with Detroiters who are struggling to pay their water bills," Kriston Capps reports at City Lab, part of The Atlantic Monthly Group.

The site invites residents with overdue bills to submit their information. From there, the site — which is the work of Tiffani Ashley Bell and Kristy Tillman — matches them with donors willing to assume their obligation.

Bell, a web developer and startup owner who moved to Atlanta in February, explains the motivation on Facebook:

Some friends and I have been following the deteriorating water situation in Detroit and we wanted to help somehow. Donating cash to some faceless "charitable" organization didn't seem to be enough.

So, we've set up a page where anybody who needs help with a past-due water bill of $250 or less in Detroit can be matched with a donor to pay the entire or part of the bill in order to get water turned back on.

If you know someone in Detroit who could use help with a past due water bill and their water has been turned off (especially if there are kids in the home or senior citizens on fixed incomes), direct them here:

If you'd like to be matched to someone who you can help with a water bill in Detroit, keep tabs on opportunities to do so here:

Tiffani Ashley Bells says she's "overwhelmed by the response and outpouring." (Facebook photo)

The Atlanta co-organizer, who has a 2008 computer science degree from Howard University and is a Code for America fellow, set up the helping hand site so that donors and recipients don't know each other's names.

"It wasn't enough to just sadly retweet Detroit water stories all day, so @KristyT and I decided to do something about it," she tweeted Friday. Johnica Reed, another friend, "has been instrumental in helping us," Tillman tweets Monday night. 

On Monday evening, three days after announcing the site, Bell posts:

Overwhelmed by the response and outpouring of support. . . . Over 150 donors have signed up so far and are getting matched to people in Detroit right now.

A Chicago friend of hers offered to cover a bill "in the $75-$100 range."

Bell also tweets this:

Perhaps inevitably, ugly reactions have arisen. "Then next year we can start paying their electricity bills, then their cable, cell phone, taxes," says the first of several disparaging comments at a Reddit thread about the City Lab post. And Tillman tweets Monday:

Related coverage today:

Water Department to Take Deep Breath, Suspend Shutoffs for 15 Days

Read more:  The Atlantic | City Lab

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