STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

UPDATE: Trying to make sense of yesterday's tragedy in Detroit

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Update 5:48 p.m.

Detroit EMS officials now say an ambulance did respond to the scene where a 9-year old boy fell to his death Wednesday.

Detroit State Representative Rashida Tlaib, based on statements from witnesses, said no ambulance ever arrived at the scene of the tragedy.

But Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek says EMS officials dispute that.

EMS officials say an ambulance was indeed dispatched just one minute after a 911 all came in, but police beat the ambulance to the scene and decided to take the boy to the hospital, where he later died.

A Detroit police spokesman confirms that police did decide to transport the boy on their own. He added that officers are given the discretion to do that in very dire situations.

Tlaib is still calling for the state to investigate the incident. As of Thursday afternoon, the Michigan Department of Community Health said it would order a local authority to do that.

11:35 a.m.

I woke up this morning, checked email, and saw this headline in my inbox:

Boy who died in fall had threatened suicide, Detroit police say

My heart sank. The boy was just nine years old. 

The Detroit Free Press reports:

"[The boy] leaped or fell to his death late Wednesday afternoon from a 9th-floor bedroom of his family's apartment unit. According to police, the youth had threatened to commit suicide several times recently. The incident occurred about 5:30 p.m. at a low-income housing structure in the 2500 block of West Grand Boulevard, about one-half mile west of Henry Ford Hospital."

We'll never know what went through the mind of that young boy before he died, but it did make me think about the link between poverty (the boy lived in a low-income housing structure) and mental health. There's a mountain of research about the links between childhood stress and health problems.

Here are just a couple statistics from the National Center for Children in Poverty:

  • Twenty-one percent of low-income children and youth aged 6 to 17 have mental health problems. 
  • Fifty-seven percent of these children and youth with mental health problems come from households living at or below the federal poverty level. 

One more thing to note: 
The Detroit Free Press article says the 9-year old boy had to be taken to the hospital in a police car because no EMS truck arrived.

So where were the EMS trucks?

Democratic  State Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit told the Detroit Free Press that city budget cuts were to blame for what she called "an unprecedented shortage of EMS trucks in Detroit." 

In addition to the budget cuts, Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported earlier this week about Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's new contract terms for most city workers:

The new terms include a 10 percent wage cut and the possibility of even deeper cuts if the city deems that necessary. Furious city union leaders say they're still contemplating their next move. They’ve talked about going to court—and some have even brought up the possibility of a strike.

No doubt we'll hear more about Bing's budget cuts and its implications in the days and weeks to come.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.