Refugee Orientation: Healthy Homes

July 27, 2016

Catholic Charities staffer Zadok Taylor shows families how to keep their homes free of pests and mold.

Before immigrating to the United States, a “healthy” home likely didn’t top the list of concerns for most refugee families who sat in the room at Catholic Charities for the fourth in a 10-class series orienting new residents to life in the U.S.

For some, having any home at all is a blessing, even a temporary home, a cramped apartment, one often too expensive for those on the limited cash assistance provided during their first months in America.

But keeping a home in good condition is important for people’s health and it helps avoid problems with the landlord. So Catholic Charities staffer Zadok Taylor walked families through ways to keep their living spaces free of pests and mold.


Pests are easy to attract and hard to get rid of, Taylor explained to the class. To avoid mice and cockroaches, people should seal food in containers or stow it in the refrigerator. It helps to take trash out regularly, he said.

Bed bugs are a much bigger challenge because they breed quickly and are resistant to pesticides. So even a clean house can host the tiny pests. Families should avoid accepting used couches or beds whenever possible. A bed protector can help keep donated mattresses safe. Otherwise keep the home clean, and the laundry washed.

Other measures to help keep apartments clear of pests include taking off shoes before going inside, and leaving trash in a dumpster outside the house.

If people see pests, they should tell their landlord. For questions and concerns about bedbugs, people can call the Multnomah County Health Department’s free bed bug hotline. Just ask for an interpreter.  

For free help with other pests such as cockroaches and rats, people can call Multnomah County Vector Control. 

Green Cleaning

Keeping surfaces clean will help keep pests away. Taylor talked about environmentally-friendly cleaning products that can be a cheaper alternative to harsh chemicals.

Multnomah County Environmental Health prepared gift bags for the participants with a toilet scratch pad and sponge, thermometer, bowl brush, steel wool, spray bottle, castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, baking soda, reusable gloves, LED light bulbs, wash rags, a bucket and descriptions of how to use green products.

Catholic Charities staff shows new refugees how to use basic cleaning products

“Before I didn’t know most of the green product names except baking soda and how to use it. We only used baking soda for cooking because we don’t waste something that we can eat like that,” said Tun Myin, who came last month from a Thai refugee camp. “Now, I kind of understand a little bit. But since there are so many products, I would like to learn more about it.”

Moisture and Mold

Moisture can be a big problem for families who moved from dry climates or lived in structures with open airflow. Taylor explained the moisture builds when many people live in a small space, when cooking and when bathing. Without proper ventilation, mold can develop. Mold can be bad for health, aggravate asthma and can cause damage to the walls, ceiling and floor of the apartment.

Taylor gave people ideas about how to control moisture in their new homes.  Those included:

  • Use fans in the kitchen when cooking
  • Turn on the fan during and after bathing
  • Wipe moisture from the bathroom walls after bathing
  • Ensure drains are working
  • Use the heat during cold months
  • Keep furniture away from apartment walls to improve air flow.