Monday, March 10, 2008

Viewers weigh in on "Forgotten Families"

My email and voice messages are full today from many who saw last night's stories highlighting the poor living conditions of immigrants in North Akron. Here's: Part 1 and Part 2. See post below for background on this story.

Not all of the messages that came in were supportive of our investigation:

Stephanie writes, "The report on Thai immigrants was prefaced with the question 'Who is responsible?' For them being here, whosoever brought them here in the first place. For the overcrowding and roaches, whosoever agrees to live that way. But for their eventual state of homelessness once the housing department finds their conditions unfit? That would be you. Bravo. I can't wait for the follow up report on how WKYC has helped dozens of southeast Asian immigrants find adequate housing."

A woman who rented a different apartment from the same landlord as the North Hill immigrants says "We met the same conditions that the Karen family met. Roaches, mice and rats were common. We complained to the office but they did not send an exterminator. They simply told us to spray and set traps ourselves. We reported Thomas Keith to the Health Department. We were given an eviction notice in response. "

Susan tells me, "This is somewhat of a double-edged sword. I have a great concern hat once the authorities become aware of the existing conditions, they may uproot these families, yet again. That would be devastating to many."

A friend of mine writes, "your story creeped me out. You’d be shocked to know how often I had roaches crawling over me when I was a kid."

Cindy tells me, "It's good to know you're out there making things happen and helping people. May God bless those families. I hope the Institute comes forward and makes things right for them. Thanks for going above and beyond as a reporter and a human being."

Akron's Housing Inspectors spent several hours at the apartments today, checking out the living conditions. They found serious rat and roach problems .. as well as low light in the hallways .. and serious overcrowding in some areas. They're citing the landlord, Tom Keith, and ordering him to make immediate corrections.

I also spoke to the head of one of the area's largest social service agencies. He tells me that the Federal Government should take some of the blame here. He says that the State Dept. drops these large groups of immigrants into America's cities without enough resources for a successful transition and then the local agencies have to pick up the pieces when it all goes to heck.

Without saying as much on the record, I think community leaders would like to see some additional area support groups step up to help with the short-term needs of these families, especially those living in overcrowded apartments.

One of the immigrants told me that the reason some of the units have too many people is because the Karen can't find jobs (remember that only a few speak English) and in a short amount of time, they run out of funds and can't pay their rent. The result is two or three families moving in together and pooling their money.

These nice people just broke my heart.

We'll have an update on the inspection tonight at 6:30 on Akron-Canton News and at 11 p.m. on Channel 3 News.


Doug said...

I guess we can blame the State Department for bringing them here in the first place? Sad to say the investigative journalism that's supposed to be at work here is not really in the know. These families will now be forced out of their "homes," deplorable as they may be when held up against American standards, to be displaced, thanks to the "great journalism" at work in this story. Horrible humanitarianism. I am embarrassed.

Eric Mansfield said...

What would you suggest journalists do? I mean, what's your answer here?
Do you suggest that journalists not cover stories when the subject or "victims" in the story could end up worse off?
Some of these kids have already been taken to the hospital because they've become sick. Should we keep quiet about that?
I think you miss the big picture behind journalism in that small stories sometimes create a domino effect to big change.
And to date, no one has been forced out of their homes. As my followup story and this blog post note, the landlord has been ordered to clean it up or face fines and/or criminal charges.
The story of Watergate didn't begin with President Nixon resigning .. it began with reporters writing a story about a morning criminal arraignment.
If nothing else, if these stories prevent other immigrants from being placed in the same conditions and force the system to have a better support plan for future refugees who come to Akron, than that will be a positive.
So I'm waiting Doug .. what would you do if you were the reporter who found these living conditions? Please tell me you wouldn't take the lazy approach and ignore it .. now THAT would be embarrassing. Eric

Doug said...

I would love to see the media, in this case Channel 3, use their influence to incite the community to get involved in a positive way, instead looking for the "villains" (scapegoats), i.e. the US government, the nonprofit agency or the landlord.

If the call went out to the people, the many caring citizens of Akron, seeking all who might be willing to "adopt" an immigrant family and help them get assimilated, what would the response be?

Channel 3 could spearhead a drive to get private citizens involved in taking these people out to eat, or shopping, or to the dentist, or to church, helping them find bus routes, etc. My thinking (and I'm not a journalist) is that taking that approach would not generate the ratings that finding a culprit did.

Predictions for the outcome of this story:

1) The cost of the fines and pest control will be passed on from the landlord to someone else, i.e. the tenant;

2) The nonprofit agency, which is probably barely getting by in this tight economy, will suffer financially and therefore either help fewer people or shut down altogether; and,

3) The families will be split up in the process of trying to move them in order to make it easier to place them in other housing, and therefore will make it even more difficult for them to assimilate.

I would to see WKYC and Tom Meyer follow this story to see what the outcome it, and would love to be proven wrong.

Anonymous said...


Your "answers" are weak in several points.

1. It is not the responsibility of the media to "call out" to the citizens of Akron for them to do something about it. The slumlords need to have accountability, and to say that the cost will just be passed along is hogwash. It is the responsibility of the media to report facts and figures and give the communities the information to make change on their own. Organizing a drive to help these families will more than likely occur, but the media is not a social service agency.

2. The International Institute was never blamed, but as a part of the story, asked the question, what are the poliices? The answer that was given was that the funding is just not there beyond 6 months. I don't think that will cause current funding to go away, more than likely more funding or policy change. The Internation Institute is a United Way agency. For more information on helping individuals, please go to

3. The fact that the families will be split up? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Have you ever lived in such as small apartment with so many individuals? So one family is on the North side and one is on the South, it is certainly better than keeping quiet about this situation.

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