MEMPHIS, Tenn — Over two days, the Memphis City Council gave out roughly 3,500 cases of bottled water at distribution sites around the city in the wake of the snow and extreme cold.
But those who can’t leave their homes, like senior citizens, people with disabilities, or those without access to a car, have limited options during a water outage.
“You see a wheelchair ramp, I guarantee you there’s somebody behind that door that is wringing their hands and wondering, ‘What am I going to do about the water,’” said Brea Levitch, who uses a wheelchair herself.
75-year-old Levitch said she and her husband did not to lose their water this time during the winter weather. However, she said others living in the Old Berclair District were not so lucky.
“The most terrifying thing in the world is trying to take care of yourself when you’re old and you have health issues and you have nobody,” Levitch said. “Then suddenly, everything you depend on; your water, your lights, your heat, is gone.”
Because of the damage to her wheelchair ramps, Levitch said she can’t even leave her own home without help.
Disability Connection Mid-South executive director Sandi Klink said close to 25% of those living in Shelby County are people with disabilities.
So what are the homebound supposed to do when the next water outage hits?
“There’s really not a whole lot of places to turn to,” she said.
However, Klink said she is in the process of pushing for the the city to create a Memphis Office on Disability.
“To help in case of emergency,” she said. “To be the go-to when nobody else is available.”
Levitch said Memphis Light Gas and Water should have their meter readers help identify which customers are the most at-risk.
“That’s a great idea,” Klink said. “Even an annual survey to see where the ramps are and aren’t any more.”
Levitch then wants to have MLGW crews deliver clean drinking water to those customers during water emergencies.
“Don’t let an elderly person sit in the dark, go without water, go without food and wonder if anybody’s going to come,” Levitch said.
Klink said she has already had preliminary talks with Memphis Mayor Paul Young about establishing an official city Office on Disability.
She said they are holding a “Disability Day on the Bluff” on March 13th to help show the city council why this service is so badly needed in Memphis.