After all the officials took turns explaining a plan to end a bedbug infestation in an apartment building where mostly refugees live, Michel Ndayavugwi simply pointed to the young boy dozing in a chair in the back of the room.
“He’s sleeping because last night, he didn’t sleep,” Ndayavugwi said through an interpreter. “What can we do? Please, find for us good apartments and good housing … so that our children will not sleep in the classroom.”
Ndayavugwi lives at Langdon Mill, a four-story brick building that’s home to 16 families, most of them refugees from Somalia, Sudan and other African nations.
The building’s owner, tenants and various city agencies have spent years trying to tackle infestations. But ultimately it was two children who inspired a more aggressive plan to not only eliminate the infestation there but also to create a model for other landlords, tenants and communities around the state.
Honore Murenzi was visiting Langdon Mill in April as part of his work with New American Africans, a nonprofit group that helps the city’s refugees. He noticed a boy who was covered in bites, and met the boy’s 17-year-old sister, who was about to give birth and worried about bringing a newborn home to their infested apartment.
Murenzi contacted a Quaker-affiliated group that promotes service and social justice and a coalition of religious, community and labor organizations. Both the American Friends Service Committee and the Granite State Organizing Project agreed to oversee a plan to temporarily relocate the tenants, exterminate the building and replace discarded furniture and belongings — all with donated space, services and goods.
Volunteers culled from local businesses, churches, colleges and the community will work with the tenants as they prepare for their temporary move and will continue to visit them weekly after their return to ensure compliance with any rules aimed at preventing future infestations.
“This campaign is a testament to a vital community spirit in Manchester,” said Maggie Fogarty, the project’s co-coordinator. “It is a collaboration with room for everyone, and a need for an enormous variety of gifts and perspectives, expertise and talents.”
The relocation is scheduled for late July or early August, though organizers still haven’t figured out where the tenants will live while the building is being exterminated. For now, the organizations are collecting donations of new mattresses, vacuum cleaners, furniture, cleaning supplies and other items.
The bedbug infestation is an additional burden for refugees already struggling to learn English, raise children and make ends meet in a foreign world, said Dan Forbes of St. Anselm College’s Meelia Center forCommunity Service.
“For any of us, it would be a complex problem, but without the language or resources to attack it on all fronts, it is that much more challenging,” he said. “It’s very upsetting if you have so little, to see that a lot of your stuff you now have to throw out.”
Ndayavugwi, who is from Burundi, said he noticed the bugs as soon as he moved into his furnished apartment.
“They said we would be in very, very good housing. What can we do?” he said.
Bedbugs — tiny flat insects that emerge from mattresses, sofas and sheets to feed on human blood at night — have made a comeback in recent years, invading hospitals, college dorms, hotels and apartment buildingsaround the country. The insects are not known to transmit any diseases, but their bites can cause infections and allergic reactions.
Females lay eggs every day, said Chris Penn of Bain Pest Control Services. Pesticides don’t penetrate the eggs, so repeated treatments are essential, he said.
“Everything needs to be treated,” he said. “It’s not just flipping over a mattress. It’s getting into everything.”
Harerimana Jeneroza, 27, also from Burundi, said her furniture was taken into a hallway and sprayed, but the bugs were biting again the next day. She stays up at night to try to protect her children.
“It’s a very bad situation,” she said.