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.
“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.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.
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