Sorry to have fallen off the cyber grid since election night. I've been consumed by tracking down a disturbing story in North Akron. More than 200 Burmese refugees brought to Akron via the International Institute last summer are living in poor conditions.
My two-part story airs Sunday at 6 and 11 on Channel 3 News ... here's a preview.
I was floored by the number of refugees living in some of these apartments and adjacent homes. We found 8 people, including a baby, in a two-room apartment. Not two "bedroom," I mean just two rooms. Their mattresses are up against the wall during the day, and then placed on the floor at night.
We also toured an adjecent home where 15 refugees, including several infants, live with one bathroom. They keep all of their toothbrushes in one bucket and divide up the rooms with sheets as make-shift walls.
There's also serious bug and rodent issues .. and the hallways are so dark, even during the day, that we nearly stepped on two infants crawling in the hallway.
This is North Hill!!! I grew up a few blocks away from where these people live and I just couldn't believe my eyes.
The immigrants came from refugee camps in Thailand, so even with bugs and overcrowding, this is still better than the conditions from which they were rescued. Many have a limited education when it comes to personal hygiene and cooking skills.
A spokesman for the International Institute tells me that his group is only responsible for the immigrants for the first six months. Most of these folks have been here eight months now so it's up to them to find jobs, pay their bills, and make a new life. Still, why did our community bring this many refugees to Akron, if the system was only in place to support them for a short time before saying they're on their own?
When I called the Housing Division of the Akron Health Department to get a background of the apartment building, the director told me he's not going to wait for my story to air .. and he scheduled inspectors to look at each apartment for health and overcrowding. That should happen this week.
The International Institute blames the building's landlord. I spoke with him at length, and he says he's happy to provide insect and rodent help when the refugees report problems, but that most of these folks don't come forward to complain. He also told me he thinks my story is going to "destroy the International Institute."
A woman from a local church who volunteers to help the immigrants says they don't complain because so few speak English. She told me horror stories of finding dead rats in the refugees' apartments and futility of getting them help.
Watch if you can .. and I'll welcome your feedback.