Lawrence Washington Jr. vividly remembers the day the water looked suspicious in Flint, Michigan.
“I was taking a shower and the water was brown,” said Washington, who was living there at the time. “I remember thinking, ‘I know I worked hard, but I know this isn’t me.’”
He makes that joke hesitantly. What he, his wife, LaToya, and his children endured in Flint is far from funny. They have since moved to Goodyear to escape the poor conditions.
“We experienced a whole lifestyle shift for two and a half years,” said Lawrence, who, like his wife, is 33. “When I say ‘shift,’ I mean we had to use water bottles for everything—washing dishes, brushing our teeth.”
“One time, I tried to give them baths with bottled water,” LaToya added. “We had to wash up with water bottles in the sink. We also cooked with bottled water.”
To fully bathe, the family took showers on Wednesdays at the Flushing, Michigan, YMCA, where they had a membership. For an extra treat, the family went to both grandparents’ homes to take baths.
The Flint water crisis was recognized in 2014, after the city changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River. According to reports, officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water, so the lead from aging pipes contaminated the water.
More than 100,000 residents were exposed to elevated lead levels. It wasn’t for another two years then-Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency, followed by President Barack Obama’s federal state of emergency.
Four government officials—one from the city of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and one from the Environmental Protection Agency—resigned over the mishandling of the crisis, and one additional MDEQ staff member was fired. Fifteen criminal cases have been filed against local and state officials.
According to CorporateAccountability.org, Flint residents pay $200 per month for water they can’t drink or use. The crisis has lasted more than 2,000 days.
“They lied and just switched it without us really knowing,” LaToya said. “The water was so gross. There are cars in that river and bodies.”
The stress was apparent throughout Flint, they said.
“You really feel the stress of the community, which caused a crisis,” he said. “I worked with youths and we had children who were AWOL late at night, so we would be out at nighttime looking for these kids. I got calls all throughout the night. My heart really goes out to the youth who are living through this.”
The unknown was scary for the Washington family, but the “known” was even worse. How long was the water contaminated before they noticed it? The couple’s son was tested for lead and it was frightening.”
“I’m not going to lie. It really scared me,” LaToya said.
“They say if your child has a high lead level—over 5—then you need to see a specialist and have them checked out. They could be at risk of memory loss and deformities, all of these different things. It really scared me because he had a 4.8.”
The couple kept the dangers from the children and kept a brave face. Lil Lawrence Washington is fine now.
“They had no idea what was going on because they thought it was a fun activity that we did every Wednesday, going to the Y,” LaToya said.
Eating at restaurants was nerve-wracking as well, as the Washington’s weren’t sure where the water was coming from.
“They would put signs in the window and say, ‘We have Detroit water.’ But was that even safe? We’d try to go to restaurants outside of Flint, if we went to a restaurant.”
The only thing that helped the couple through the trying times was their faith in God.
“I just believe that as long as we remain thankful and grateful, everything going to work out,” he said.
After two years of knowing about the water crisis, the Washington’s packed up and moved to Goodyear, near LaToya’s sister. “We made a decision together,” Lawrence said. “We were going to stay optimistic in this situation because we wanted to leave a legacy for our children.
“We wanted to let them know they can overcome anything as long as you remain optimistic. We wanted to demonstrate that and that’s what really drove us to come here.”
“It’s quiet,” Washington said. “We can go to the park. Just seeing the other families out there at the park really spoke to me. We didn’t do much of that back home in Flint, Michigan.”
When the Washingtons had enough money saved, they came to Arizona. They considered moving just outside of Flint, but they were unsure if the water was even safe there.
“We came here to visit and that’s when the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘Nows the time,’” he said.
Lawrence works for Apex Leadership Company that helps raise money for schools. LaToya is a case manager for the severely mentally ill population.
“Since I lost my mom, this job has really helped me to be able to continue to move forward doing what I believe God put in my heart to do while I’m here,” he said.
The family was hit once again when mechanics found a gas leak in their only vehicle. It will cost $1,500 to repair. In the meantime, the couple is renting cars to get to work and their children to their three different schools.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “We just want what’s best for our children.”
For more information or to donate, visit http://bit.ly/2QCteFv.