EXCLUSIVE: Local Syrian Refugees Living in Squalor

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Refugees are fleeing their war-torn homes and coming to America for a chance at a better life. However, some Syrian refugee families in St. Louis are finding the American Dream to be a nightmare steeped in reality.

On Monday, KMOX’s Charlie Brennan found a family living in a cluster of brick apartment buildings in the 1000 block of Hodiamont Avenue. After asking around to speak with Syrian families, a man standing in a doorway invited him in.

Brennan says there is no power on in the tiny apartment. The unusually oppressive October heat is smothering the occupants, a husband, a wife and two small children. The front door is wide open to let air flow through because there are no working air conditioners. The door isn’t able to lock anyway.

A child clings to her mom, cranky from the heat with no relief in sight.

(Maria Keena/KMOX)

(Maria Keena/KMOX)

“I sit [on] the couch and this wife is there, she wearing this Muslim garb and they got two little kids there,” Brennan says. “He shows me the documents they had from the State Department and there’s five kids actually, I assume three are in school.”

The family, similar to other refugee families in the area, cannot speak English. Brennan was able to communicate with the family thanks to a translating iPhone app.

“If I type in English it comes out Arabic and if he types in Arabic, it comes out in English. It’s great,” Brennan exclaims.


The man says he is afraid because of all the gunfire they hear in the neighborhood at night. It’s reminiscent of the endless gunfire they heard in war-torn Syria.

The man also mentions the pest infestation in the apartment, with bugs falling from the ceiling and dead rodents in the kitchen.

“He said ‘There are ants all over this apartment’ and then he lifted up his leg and showed me all the bites. I think the translation should have been ‘bed bugs.’ And then he said ‘There’s mice here too,'” Brennan says.

A check of the property on the city of St. Louis website reveals several calls over the years for roaches, rats and mold. On Tuesday, Rottler Pest Control sprayed the apartment for bugs.

(Maria Keena/KMOX) [This photo has been edited to hide the family's address.]

(Maria Keena/KMOX) [This photo has been edited to hide the family’s address.]

The family says they haven’t heard from the International Institute since they came to St. Louis in August.

Their funds from the Institute have run out and now they rely on fellow Syrians who are already established in St. Louis. They try to help the new refugees by donating furniture, toiletries and groceries but even their resources are limited.

The International Institute’s senior vice president of programs Suzanne LeLaurin says they can’t find affordable housing in south St. Louis with multiple bedrooms required for large families under housing codes.

LeLaurin says ideally they try to place families within walking distance or one bus ride from the Institute, which is near Grand Boulevard and Arsenal Street.

The Hodiamont Avenue apartment complex not only houses refugees, but also American children and families living in the same squalor.

Despite deplorable living conditions, the Syrian refugee children attend school and are learning to speak English. They’re just like any other child: Innocent, full of curiosity and playful. But the stark reality is they’re not living like regular children.

(TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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One Comment

  1. jerome crosson says:

    During the years of mass immigration (125 years ago), this country had rules intended to help
    the ‘newbies’ adapt to life in the USA. I know about the ‘bad’ side of Ellis Island, the crowded
    housing on New York’s lower east side, etc.; my ancestors arrived here in 1872. But the result
    was growth of the economy and basic education for all.

    But now, we are dumping ‘refugees’ from middle east violence and ‘hoping’ they can adapt on their own. Predictably, failure will result. Crime will be a natural result. And the liberals who
    thought the dumping was a good idea will blame everyone – except themselves.

    Shoulda’ helped solve the situation in the middle east – too late now.

  2. Ian says:

    St. Louis has lost over half its population (from 800,000 to 300,000) in the last couple decades mostly due to white flight, so it makes some sense to bring in new people who may want to live here. There are over 20,000 abandoned houses owned by the city.

    Thousands of Bosnians were brought here in the 1990s to the same area and they adapted well. The Bosnians were mostly Muslims fleeing the Serbs. South St. Louis has a large Bosnian population now so the Syrians may find people who can relate to their situation.

    Having spent a few years living in St. Louis I can assure you that gunfire and insects are a common living condition here, regardless of your race.

  3. Walt Roddy says:

    Hello… Yes I have dealt with Syrian and many Eastern European Immigrants and Hispanic Immigrants for over 11 years now in my parish work. I have dealt with over 5,000 people in the years of helping the poorest of the poor. I have pictures of Mice in Kitchens, and stories gator of bed bugs biting children and babies. People with no food, limited clothing and neighborhoods with much violence… This is very normal for many areas of South City and North City. Not just immigrants but many American’s with African Descent.. Families living in basements , women who have to sell themselves to feed their children.. We all need to pray…

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