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For this family, leaving Flint during the water crisis wasn't easy

Dec 15, 2016

A year ago, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency in the city. Now, officials say the water is improving, but it’s still not safe to drink without a filter.

The water crisis has forced some people to make tough choices.

Dana Banks and her husband Charles were both born and raised in Flint, and they still have a lot of family here. Their church is here. Their house, right near downtown, is the first home they bought together.

We met up with Charles and Dana right before they sold their home.

“So we’re entering our home now, well, to-be-sold home," says Dana, leading the way in. "And this area was our living room. It still has quite a few items here because it was so difficult to try to move everything."

There’s a stack of encyclopedias in the corner. A red swivel chair. Some boxes in the kitchen.

The Banks bought this house in 2008, and they planned to stay in it until their oldest daughter graduated high school.

“But it didn’t work out that way because the water situation got worse and worse,” Dana says.

Dana says she noticed changes in her kids’ health. And everyday tasks - like cooking - were stressful because they were using bottled water.

Last fall, Dana lost her job.

Charles and Dana wanted to leave Flint. But they just didn’t have the money.

“And that’s the thing: is that there’s so many people who are trapped. Because we felt trapped,” says Dana. “We would cry because we felt trapped. How do you get out of a mortgage? How do you do that? How do you move when you have no money?”

The "golden ticket"

But then, Charles got into grad school in Ann Arbor.

"Being accepted into school was the golden ticket," he says. "The ability to bring my family with me.”

"And that's the thing: is that there's so many people who are trapped. Because we felt trapped."

It meant they were able to move into university housing with their four daughters without having to pay a lot of money up front.

“All we needed to do was get a U-Haul truck and convince our kids that we weren’t crazy," Dana says, laughing. "And they still think we’re crazy. They do, they think we have lost our minds. They understand instinctively, that like 'oh yeah, you want to save my life.' But they’re kids!”

The Banks say they didn’t want to risk exposing their kids to lead in the water any longer. But to move, they had to leave family and friends behind and uproot their kids.

"'Before the move' and 'after the move' is their whole conversation or life path right now: 'we had friends and now we don’t.' 'We had a community and now we don’t.' 'We had a backyard and now we don’t,'" says Dana.

Strong ties to Flint

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Dana says they still go back to Flint for church every week, and they visit family and friends.

"The only reason I was really able to go like this was because my dad came down with Alzheimer’s, and he doesn’t know if I’m here or if I’m gone or who I am, or who I’m not, for the most part," she says. "So that is one of the reasons why it became easier to move."

Camryn Banks, 17, recorded her siblings' and friends' heights on the door frame of her bedroom door in her Flint home. She made a copy on a piece of wood to take with her when they moved.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

They sold their house in Flint in November, and now the Banks family is squeezed into a 900 square foot apartment in Ann Arbor.

Camryn Banks shares a room with her little sister Troy.

“I think our biggest issue is she’s seven and I’m 17. So we have complete opposite agendas but we make it work,” says Camryn.

Troy says sometimes it's fun sharing a room with her big sister.

“It’s fun when she’s still at school and I’m in the room just dancing and having my own time. It’s not fun when she’s here playing music too loud and I’m trying to sleep,” she says.

"I don't have to actively try to survive all the time."

Camryn says she misses a lot of things about Flint. But she says leaving the water crisis behind has helped her.

“You can’t focus on anything but the water and not having water and it really just gives you an attitude. You become aggressive. I find myself now that, like, I don’t have to actively try to survive all the time, that kind of aggressiveness I had about myself when I was in Flint is so unnecessary here,” she says.

She says living without clean water is life changing, and it’s important to remember people in Flint are still struggling.

You can see more stories about life in Flint today on our Tumblr page, and share your story.