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My friend Brian and I made a number of home visits today to people in need in North Central Milwaukee, near St. Catherine, the parish that just took 1.1 million he received from the closing of other Catholic Churches in North Central Milwaukee and put it an endowment for ‘future church’ needs rather than in present ones. The visits today confirmed once again what we knew that begs bugs and greedy landlords are hurting this impoverished neighborhood. The overwhelming need of people in this area is for beds and for stoves and refrigerators.

Bed bugs are devastating to the neighborhood and being spread from one house to another. Ridding a house of beds, clothes and other furniture is one step. The spaying to rid house of bed bugs is very expensive and something many landlords are not willing to occur. A friend who manages some apartment on the East side said that an apartment he manages had bed bugs and immediately the absentee landlord hired expensive spraying for bed bugs to be done. A woman who we saw today did not have bed bugs but allowed some children of family members to stay awhile at her house and her house became devastated with bed bugs. She had to throw all her mattress and other furniture out and is now starting again, after extensive spraying. One elderly man who had been driven from his rooming house on the East side by bed bugs to a rental unit in North Central Milwaukee told us that ‘roaches’ are his friends but bed bugs are a terror. They bite and spread furiously.

Appliances, particularly refrigerators and stoves, used to be supplied by landlord. My friend who works for landlords around town, not in North Central Milwaukee, told me that all his landlords supply stoves and refrigerators. However, many landlords in North Central Milwaukee have kept their rent the same or raised them but no longer supply used stoves and refrigerators. One woman we met had eight children or grandchildren living with her. Ten years ago when she moved in the house there was a used refrigerator supplied by landlord. Not that refrigerator is worn out and the landlord will not supply another one.

If you are poor and call 211, help line, looking for beds, stoves and/or a refrigerator the only response you will get is to call St. Vincent De Paul Society. Our parish conference gives vouchers for appliances from used appliances stores and provides new single or double beds at our ST. Vincent De Paul store. We are glad to do this but the only problem is that our conference attached to the parish that just put a million dollars plus into an endowment does not have the money to provide what is needed. (Each voucher for a bed, stove or refrigerator cost our conference around $125). If a family needs beds, stove and a refrigerator, as many do, we give them what I call a terrible choice, two of the three. Some choose beds for children to sleep on and some choose stove and\or a refrigerator to provide decent food. One woman facing this terrible choice last April chose beds and refrigerator. We told her to call us back in six months if she still needed a stove. She did and today we gave her a voucher for a stove.

There is a solution to this epidemic of bed bugs and landlords. Provide new beds after extensive care to rid a place of beg bugs and to either require landlords to provide stoves and refrigerators in a local rental unit or give out used stoves and refrigerators and help families moving the appliances when they move to a new location. If the city, Churches and social service organizations and landlords worked together to solve this problem and put off short term profits to solve a long term problem it could be solved. Instead, people blame the poor for these problems, Churches put money into endowments rather than family in neighborhoods, legislatures, like now in the Wisconsin legislature, pass laws favoring landlords and denying renters’ rights, In an age when greed and profits dominate the poor get stuck with bed bugs and greedy landlords.

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