Houston Chronicle

For some, the water remains off

Many Fifth Ward residents haven’t been able to get repairs to pipes busted in freeze

- By Dylan McGuinness and Julian Gill STAFF WRITER

More than a week after the paralyzing winter freeze in Texas, Fifth Ward residents Melissa Turner and Brittney Brown still need bottled water to survive.

The apartment dwellers are not alone. They are part of a swath of Fifth Ward residents near the 1900 block of Benson Street, many elderly or with children, who cannot find fixes for pipes that burst in the extreme cold.

Turner, who lives with her 12year-old and 17-year-old kids, said she goes through up to three cases a day for basic needs such as washing and flushing toilets. Brown said the neighbors mostly have been on their own, looking for the coveted cases among a limited supply at area stores.

“It’s really stressful to have to deal with all that, but I try to deal with it the best I can, from day to day,” said Brown, who does not have her own transporta­tion.

The residents were provided a reprieve Thursday as community organizers, Houston police and local activists doled out food

and more than 400 cases of water to the neighborho­od.

It is unclear how many people are suffering similar circumstan­ces in Houston. The city does not have a way to track burst pipes on private property aside from 311 requests, and not all residents report those issues. As of Thursday morning, the city has received 10,476 calls for water service requests, which account for everything from fire hydrants to water main breaks to home leaks, according to Public Works.

The stark need in this historical­ly neglected community was a reminder to activists and local leaders that the impact of last week’s freeze continues for likely thousands of residents.

“In case you’re wondering ... not everyone has gotten back to the ‘normal,’” said Chrishelle Palay, the executive director of the

Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition. “This is (especially) true for communitie­s that are always forgotten during ‘normal’ times.”

Community organizer Amatullah Contractor discovered the neighborho­od’s immense need Wednesday. She saw a friend, Marcel McClinton, post on Twitter that drivers were needed to help deliver water, and she volunteere­d.

She drove to Benson Street to help a resident. When she revealed the water supply in her trunk, residents surrounded her within minutes in search of help.

“Instantly my heart broke because I only had three cases of water,” Contractor, 22, told the Chronicle. “So I was trying to find out what we could do.”

Contractor went to a Randall’s in the Heights and purchased two more cases, bringing them back to residents. McClinton, a 19-yearold former City Council candidate, sent out the story Wednesday

night on Twitter. It made the rounds online and helped them raise some $4,000 for four pallets of water and other supplies.

The organizers, along with rapper and community activist Trae tha Truth and his organizati­on The Relief Gang, returned to the neighborho­od Thursday.

“We’re kids, we’re in our early 20s and we’re filling a void where our governor should be, where our state officials should be while they’re going on vacation,” Contractor said. “If I go into someone’s home and they don’t even know where they could find a bottle of water, that’s a huge flaw in leadership.”

McClinton said he was not shocked when he learned water issues were impacting a large part of the neighborho­od.

“Because we know this is a food desert,” he said. “This area, after every natural disaster, is neglected and has been for decades.”

Renters in the neighborho­od, such as Brown and Turner, say

landlords are aware of the issue but so far have not been able to find a plumber.

Blinda Whaley, who rents a home, said her landlord has been running into the same issue faced by many: a lack of plumbing supplies.

For 70-year-old Betty Gregory, who was raised in Fifth Ward and now lives in Kashmere Gardens, the water issues are an unnecessar­y layer of stress for a community that ritually faces the worst impacts of natural disasters.

Gregory, a volunteer at the Houston Housing Authority and an environmen­tal justice nonprofit, noted the neighborho­od also has been affected by a recently discovered cancer cluster.

“That’s in addition to what they’ve had to suffer not having water, and not having electricit­y,” she said. “And most of these citizens have children. … They shouldn’t have to go to the store to buy water.”

 ?? Photos by Brett Coomer / Staff photograph­er ?? Blinda Whaley pours water into a pan to boil after receiving a case of it and some food from a volunteer group led by Marcel McClinton on Thursday in the 1900 block of Benson Street in Houston.
Photos by Brett Coomer / Staff photograph­er Blinda Whaley pours water into a pan to boil after receiving a case of it and some food from a volunteer group led by Marcel McClinton on Thursday in the 1900 block of Benson Street in Houston.
 ??  ?? Patricia Bullock waits in line for food and water in the 1900 block of Benson on Thursday. Residents in the Fifth Ward neighborho­od received several cases of water and food.
Patricia Bullock waits in line for food and water in the 1900 block of Benson on Thursday. Residents in the Fifth Ward neighborho­od received several cases of water and food.
 ?? Brett Coomer / Staff photograph­er ?? People line up for food and water on Benson Street on Thursday. Neighborho­od residents have been without water for days.
Brett Coomer / Staff photograph­er People line up for food and water on Benson Street on Thursday. Neighborho­od residents have been without water for days.
 ?? Joy Sewing / Staff ?? It takes 15-20 minutes for dogs to get hypothermi­a. Prince quickly began to shiver in the house with the power out.
Joy Sewing / Staff It takes 15-20 minutes for dogs to get hypothermi­a. Prince quickly began to shiver in the house with the power out.

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