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Family sleeps in car to avoid bug-infested apartment

Family sleeps in car to avoid bug-infested apartment

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Dear W.C.,

My 10-year-old son and I have rented the same duplex for the past four years, and I’ve always had a good relationship with my landlord. Six months ago, a new renter moved into the adjoining unit in my building, and ever since then my problems began. It started with the new tenants’ blasting their music and television all night long. I brought this up to my landlord, and he said he would get them to turn it down. Then the bad smell started. It is, at times, overwhelming. It smells like rotting garbage and chemicals. Then, last month, I noticed the bugs. I am a clean freak, and have never had bugs anywhere I have lived. Now, there are roaches throughout my kitchen, and my son has bed bug bites, too.

I have contacted my landlord numerous times, and all he has done is come out and spray. He refuses to hire an exterminator, and the fumes from the spray are so toxic I will not bring my son inside. We have slept in my car for the past week, as I do not have money for a hotel or for first month’s rent and security deposit elsewhere. I checked everything after he sprayed, and the bugs are still there anyway. It did absolutely nothing to them.

Since then, I have found more bed bugs in both our beds and our couch. I am absolutely horrified, and my landlord is now going to fumigate our duplex with a bomb. We need to move out of this rental as soon as possible, because my son has asthma and cannot be continuously exposed to all these chemicals. We are still sleeping in my car every night, and only go inside during the day to use the bathroom. I can’t even cook our meals, because the roaches are in everything.

I am so embarrassed to even share our situation with anyone. Before this happened, I was just getting by each month. Now, I am trying to figure out how to get us out of this, and I know there is no way I can on my own.

Dear Readers,

Many people hear the word “bedbug” and think it is something that only unclean homes have. I can tell you, I have talked to people from all spectrums of financial levels that have been affected by bedbugs. They can travel home in your luggage from air travel or hotels, on your clothing from restaurants, movie theaters, buses, casinos, etc. Another common way to get them is from used mattresses and furniture and even traveling through walls in apartment complexes. This is the reason we only provide brand new beds. Bedbugs are not only disgusting, but also painful and very expensive to treat. I knew this woman and her son would not only need to move, but also would need new beds and furniture.

I called the woman who wrote the letter, and found she and her son were in her car. The woman was in tears as soon as she answered her phone, obviously very overwhelmed by her situation. She spoke quietly, and when I asked why she was speaking so softly, she said: “My son is sleeping, because he has school tomorrow. So I am trying to not disturb him.”

I asked her details about her rental and the name of her landlord. She told me his name, but I was not familiar with him. I asked for his telephone number, because I knew I would probably be needing it to call and get her out of her lease and hopefully get her security deposit returned. I began my list of assistance with knowing she would need to move into a new rental, but also would not be able to bring most of her belongings with her due to the risk of bringing bugs with her. With the threat of colder weather coming, I knew I wanted to get her somewhere immediately.

We talked about when her neighbors moved in and the problems began. To me, the smell she described could have been bug spray and a lack of hygiene, as most likely the newer tenants brought the infestation with them when they moved in. The woman told me how she had always kept her duplex clean and how she and her son had lived a very happy life there for so many years without any problems. I explained to her how easily bedbugs can spread, and roaches as well. She was horrified by my explanation, but also was getting educated so she did not bring them with her when she moved.

The woman told me about her son and how his father had left them before they moved into the duplex. He did not pay child support, as he moved out of state and she had not seen him since their divorce. The woman said: “I have managed everything fine as a single mother until now. When he was younger, my mother was still alive and would baby sit for me when I worked two jobs. She passed away two years ago, so I am not able to work as many hours now unless I pay a sitter.”

I asked about her job, the hours she worked and her hourly rate. She seemed to be getting paid a fair amount, and at times took some side jobs when she fell behind. Now, with them sleeping in her car and needing extra money for gas to keep her car warm at night, she found herself falling further behind.

The woman sent me a photo of her budget, and we went over it together. She was still making payments on her car and payments on a dentist bill for her son, in addition to food, utilities, toiletries, medical bills for her son due to his asthma, and a trip to the emergency room for the flu. So I could see her budget was very tight. There was not any room for extra expenses.

I discussed how we have dealt with bedbugs for our clients in the past. She listened and took notes. The woman sent me pictures she had taken of her mattresses, the bedbugs hiding in electric outlets and baseboards, the roaches in her cabinets and on her counter tops. She said: “I took all our clothing and towels out in sealed plastic bags to the laundromat and dumped them in the hottest cycle they had. Then when they were done, I put them all in sealed bins in my car. I did that to our coats, too, and sprayed our shoes. All those things are in my car along with our important personal items that I inspected before taking them out. Everything else I will leave behind when I move.”

I told her that was the right thing to do. She said her furniture was not anything worth taking anyway, but she did not know how she could ever afford to replace it.

Throughout our conversation, the overwhelmed woman broke down in tears. She had no one else to talk to about what she was going through, or to help her out of the situation she was in. She continually told me how embarrassed she was and how she knew if she told anyone else, they would shun her. I assured her that I had known other people who had been affected by bedbugs. It is a tough problem to eradicate, even for those who are wealthy, but at least they have the means to tackle the problem. Most people living in poverty are at the mercy of their landlord or limited finances, and the expense of exterminating is quite high.

After thoroughly questioning the woman about how careful she had been with not carrying bedbugs with them into her car, I told her I would make arrangements for them to move to a motel immediately. She assured me they had not had any bites or even seen a bug since they began sleeping in her car several weeks prior. I had her hold on while I called a motel and made arrangements for them to check in that night, as it would be in the 50s and much too cold for either of them to sleep in a car.

I also arranged for an envelope containing grocery and gas gift cards to be dropped off by a volunteer to the woman at her motel room. The volunteer was also very knowledgeable about bedbugs, and checked the room to be sure it was clean.

The following day, I met the woman and her son at the motel. After introducing myself and showing my identification, we sat to talk at the small table in the room. Both the woman and her son were very thankful for the comfortable motel room. The son said: “I was so happy to get up in a bed without bugs biting me or uncomfortable from sleeping in the back seat of the car.”

I knew for a boy to say this, it had to be bad. I had brought a bag with sandwiches and snacks for them, and while they ate, we talked about her apartment options. The woman was understandably afraid of this situation happening again, as she broke down in tears. I watched as her son came over to hold her hand and comfort his mother. Hearing our conversation about leaving behind all their belongings, the boy asked, “What about my stuffed animals and books?”

I told him how we did not want to bring any bugs with us to the new apartment, so we would give him a gift card so he could go shopping with his mother and pick out new ones. He looked concerned at first, but then smiled, saying to his mother: “That will be fun, mom. See, we won’t have to worry about bugs anymore.”

The mother smiled and hugged her son. Then she said: “How will we afford to move into a new apartment? I have already paid my rent for this month at our duplex, and do not have any more money for a new apartment.”

I told her about how The Time Is Now to Help provides assistance with rent and security deposits, as long as we are sure the rent can be paid going forward. I told the mother about an apartment building I knew to be well cared for, and for as long as I have brought tenants there, it had not had any infestations. In fact, most of the tenants stay for years due to the reasonable rent and the care that the landlord provides.

The mother was very interested in seeing an apartment there, so I called the landlord to check availability. There was an apartment available, so I told the landlord the woman would take it. I did disclose to the landlord the reason for her move, and he gave the woman even more advice on not moving any of her belongings that are in her present rental into the new apartment. She promised to only move what she already had cleaned in her car.

My next phone call was to the landlord for her duplex. He was not as easy to talk to as her new landlord was. He insisted the problem was not his to deal with, and when I informed him the woman and her son would need to get out of their lease, he refused to refund her security deposit since she would not be moving out her belongings and he would have to dispose of them. I could see I was not going to get anywhere with this person, as he did not have any compassion for what the woman and her son were going through. Once we ended our call, I made a note to not ever use any of his rentals in the future, and I was even more grateful for the many good landlords we work with.

The following day, we paid the security deposit and first month’s rent for the mother and son. We also made arrangements for new beds and bedding to be delivered. We provided gift cards for additional groceries, household necessities and toiletries to replace what was left behind. By the end of the week, the mother and son were able to move into the new apartment and out of her car. They have been lucky to not have any recurrence of the infestation in their new apartment, because unless you are extremely careful, you can bring these pests with you.

When I spoke to the woman the final time, she told me how she still vigilantly checks and cleans her new apartment almost daily because she is still so afraid of another outbreak, even though she has been there for a month now. The woman and her son again shared their gratitude for what we did to help them.

The woman began to cry when she said: “Who could I have told about this problem and gotten this help from? I took my chances in telling you, even though I was so embarrassed, and I feel like you saved our lives. We would still be sleeping in my car if it wasn’t for The Time is Now.”

Thanks to all of you, we were able to help this woman and her son move out of unacceptable living conditions into a clean, healthy, safe environment.

Every day we receive requests for our assistance. In many communities there is no or little assistance for those living in the pains of poverty. People of every age are suffering in silence as they live without proper shelter, food, utilities and other daily necessities. Thank you and God bless you for all we accomplish together to ease these pains of poverty.

Health and happiness, love and God bless everyone, Sal

Please help: There are many coming to us in desperation. Our good fellow creations need our compassion. Together we make a big difference. Make checks payable to: The Time Is Now to Help, P.O. Box 1, Lake Geneva, WI 53147. The Time Is Now to Help is a federally recognized 501©3 charitable organization licensed in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. You will receive a tax deductible, itemized thank you receipt showing how your donation provided assistance for the poverty stricken.

A very special thank you: Rhoades Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, Paul Ziegler, Ziegler Charitable Foundation, Kunes Country Auto Group, John and Valerie Lincoln, James and Lynne Newman Foundation, Dick and Jean Honeyager, Lake Geneva Area Realty, Barnabas Donors, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Schuberth, Keith and Lynn Burns, Michael and Mary Alice Deutsch, William Wright, The Sowers House, Michael Glass, St. Joseph’s Congregation, Judy Dishneau, Kelleher Family, George and Lauretta Clettenberg, Gerald and Patricia Miller, Philip and Helen Joyce, Direct Contract Cleaning, Peter and Debbi Kroening, Beth and Jody Rendall, and William and Esther Merckel.

Honoraries: Mark and Natalie Reno to thank God for all his graces.

Memorials: Joyce Byers in memory of Kenny Gibson. Dorothy Swatek in memory of Marilynn Dyer. Fred and Cindy Lawton in memory of Dolly Brickner.

Prayer chain: The power of prayer and positive thoughts comes from the true healer, our Lord answering our prayers. Please pray for healing for the following people: Talyn, Mike, Susan, Sylvia, Richard, Jennifer, Jayden, Maria C., Alex, Lily, Kaitlyn, Sheila, Rhonda, Deda Lee, Marilyn, Helen, Dennis, Mary, Joseph, Sal, Jordan, Jean, Tom L., Arabelle J., Dr. Peter, Alyce and Matthew.

Furniture donations: To donate furniture please call Love Inc. 262-763-2743.

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