DETROIT — The advice is simple and universal: Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But for millions of people across the country, that’s not simple at all: They lack running water in their houses due to service shutoffs prompted by overdue bills. The Rev. Roslyn Bouier remembers when children began to show up at the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry on Detroit’s northwest side, clutching empty pitchers. It was the summer of 2014 and the kids were parched. But their thirst didn’t come from playing outside — they had no water at home. That was the year the city of Detroit started its water shutoff campaign, turning off water to 28,500 residential accounts behind on payments. Through the end of 2019, the city has recorded about 127,500 total service cutoffs, according to the water department, though that figure includes households where the water was turned off repeatedly. “In this pandemic, it’s the people who are living on the margins of society and the poorest of our society that’s being the most adversely impacted,” Bouier said. Michigan has the sixth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the country,


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