Denver’s elderly, disabled, fight bed bug Shaq attack

by nobugsonme on June 16, 2007 · 20 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs and people with disabilities, bed bugs and the elderly, celebrities with bed bugs, colorado, denver, misinformation

This one is going to break your heart, and piss you off. The Rocky Mountain News reported Friday on a Denver infestation in a 197-unit building called Halcyon House that houses disabled and elderly people in affordable units. Nasty, badly kept, bed bug-infested affordable units (oh, and did I mention the plumbing was broken too?)

Elderly, disabled fight filth, bedbugs

Court case drags on as residents cope with filthy building

By Ivan Moreno, Rocky Mountain News
June 15, 2007

“This is never going to end,” Kevin Grimsinger said as he exited a Denver courtroom in his wheelchair Thursday.

The 39-year-old, who lost his legs to a land mine while serving in the U.S. Army in Kosovo, and his fellow residents at a downtown affordable housing building have wrangled with corporations as their rooms became infested with bedbugs and trash collection was interrupted because contractors weren’t paid.

For almost a year, the elderly and disabled residents of Halcyon House have been left wondering who is responsible – Urban Inc., the Greenwood Village management company, or American Housing Preservation Corp., the Maine-based company that owns the building at 1955 Arapahoe St.

They were hoping for some answers Thursday when the manager of Urban Inc. appeared in court after being cited by the city for lack of pest control. But the case was continued until June 28, so an attorney representing the building’s owner can be present.

“It’s just like a continuous running circle,” said Grimsinger as he maneuvered his wheelchair down a narrow hallway of Denver Environmental Court.

In the meantime, the Denver Department of Environmental Health may issue additional citations to Halcyon House’s owners for unsanitary conditions, said Bob McDonald, division supervisor for Public Health Inspection.

Actually, it’s been 16 months so far (read on). And here we see another variation on the blame game: this time the question of who pays for treatment. It sounds like this kept things tied up while bed bugs bred and the problem spread.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes 70 percent of the residents’ rent, knows about the bedbug problem, said Marcie LaPorte, director of the Denver Multifamily Hub.

“A worse-case scenario would be to not pay the subsidy part of the rent, but we would like to do everything we can before it gets to that point,” LaPorte said.

Cutting off the subsidy would only worsen the situation because there would be less money for the upkeep of the building, said Cris White, chief operating officer at the Colorado Housing and Financing Authority, which ensures residents qualify for the assistance.

Mark Shulman, managing director of Urban Inc., said the “challenges at the Halcyon House are many.”

Chief among them is the widespread bedbug infestation, which prompted the city to take the matter to court.

“There was simply no funds for which to pay” the pest-control company, Shulman said. The company that owns the building stopped providing the money in late April, he added.

American Housing Protection Corp. did not a return a call for comment Thursday.

Denver Environmental Health officials said Urban Inc. resumed pest-control operations after they were cited May 14. But since bedbugs can never be completely eradicated, the spraying has to continue indefinitely to keep them under control.

Grimsinger said if things don’t improve, residents will picket in front of their building.

“We deserve the same treatment as anybody else in this city,” he said.


To say that “since bedbugs can never be completely eradicated, the spraying has to continue indefinitely to keep them under control” is not accurate in itself.
Bed bugs can be eliminated from an entire building. To do so using routine sprayings is very difficult. It may have been possible to eradicate them using traditional methods (sprays and dusts) if the PCO had known what they were doing and treated aggressively enough and regularly enough and had the residents been educated about the process and the do’s and don’ts. At this point, the building may need to be treated with Vikane gas (if this is legal in Denver). If Vikane is not legal there, perhaps thermal treatment is possible.

To make matters more interesting, here’s a tidbit the article leaves out. Back in August, the Denver Post reported that this affordable housing building is owned by a group of investors (American Housing Preservation Corp) that includes Shaquille O’Neal.

In August 2006, the Denver Post also said:


Eric Pusch, a resident who uses a wheelchair, said it is “such a tragedy to wake up in the middle of the night and briefly turn on my television and, from the light of the television, I can see the bugs swarming all over the pillow next to me. I might reach over and try to brush them off or smash them, and a blood spot is left.”

Ellen Dumm, spokeswoman for the city’s department of environmental health, called the company cooperative and said the owner has been using an extermination company to get rid of the bugs.

Mark Shulman of the Greenwood Village-based property-management company Urban Inc. said the level of treatment the company has been maintaining is “status quo,” but it became apparent last week that it needed to eradicate the bugs and move to another level of treatment.

Shulman said the owners are pursuing an aggressive treatment proposal, going apartment by apartment this week, evacuating and treating entire floors.

“We recognize the problem,” Shulman said.

Efforts to reach O’Neal through his agent or the Miami Heat basketball team were not successful.

Either the problem was “recognized” too late, or the treatment was not aggressive enough. For whatever reasons, all in all, these people have had bed bugs since February 2006 (16 months), and the disabled residents are now living with more bed bugs than ever.

Yeah, yeah, I realize it’s complicated. But still.

Shame on the owners, and the city, for not making this right. Shame on the US government, too, for not seeing this as a problem for which they need to fund solutions. Because we are going to see this more and more: whatever the situation was in this case, there will be homeowners and landlords who can’t pay for treatment, or can’t pay for effective treatment. We can’t let people live with bed bugs indefinitely. And here’s the thing, the more people living with bed bugs, because of nonexistent or poor treatment, the more people will get bed bugs. They spread. Lawmakers and people who can take care of their own pest control costs may shake their heads and say, “too bad.” But it is not someone else’s problem, it is everyone’s problem. They will spread to anyone. We all have much more contact with one another on a daily basis than some of us would like to admit.

A warning to those who shake their heads and sigh, “Not my problem”: if you let poor people live with bed bugs, then bed bugs will, eventually, appear in your bed, to quite literally bite you in the ass.

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1 Bugalina June 16, 2007 at 9:01 am

The treatments/chemicals used now for bed bugs present a tremendous challenge for total eradication. However, this is no excuse to not take strong and immediate action . This bldg. presents a good example, unfortunately, in speaking to the inadequancy of the expensive, low residual chemicals used in present treatments. I have been saying all along that bed bugs are going to be the bug that is relegated to a lower socio-economic class. NOT because they don’t care or do nothing, but because they simply cannot afford the expensive chemicals or jump through the “bags and storage” hoops that are necessary to do, because of the lack of an effective chemical. Vikane has no residual to my knowledge. Thus it costs probably in the hundreds of thousands to tent and fumigate a bldg., yet the bugs could return almost immediately. The slimes who own and operate this bldg. would never do this. These scenarios are depressing. How can the elderly and disabled do what the “experts” are now telling us is necesssary to do. These same experts who don’t have to live in the bug sucking conditions of this bldg; the ones who say ” sorry, don’t expect any silver bullet”..you must keep on top of things..inspect…vacuum..use a 3 week residual chemical…sorry but this is the best our great nation can do for you kiddies…. Its over one year for me and I am still paying nearly $500. per month in storage costs…..This scenerio is the reason I took a sabatical from the blog. It makes my blood boil…..I know what its like, firsthand, to live with the blood suckers in my home. I know what it does to a person. Lets get real…and admit the truth….there is no silver bullet because …..why ?? A bunch of incompetents are at the helm…steering us straight into the path of the “bed bug perfect storm”…take away their profits and egos and salt them with some reality. Give them bed bugs in their beds and stand back and watch them cringe. If they take off their rose colored glasses, the ones with the dollars signs in their lenses, maybe these poor people would have a shot to live without this horror/nitemare monster bug….This is just another post on the blog…we read it and go away, but these elderly and disabled people have to sleep in this hellhole…

2 nobugsonme June 16, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Bugalina,

Which “bunch of incompetants… at the helm,” which “experts” are you mad at? I am unclear on that.

I realize that Vikane has no residual, but I think when an entire building is badly infested, the responsible thing to do is use it (if local laws allow). It would keep these folks from suffering.

Follow that with an education campaign, preventative application of DE, caulking and other methods (get all those beds encased, for example). If tenants know what to look for, and know they won’t be blamed for reporting sightings and signs promptly, and if the owners respond QUICKLY to any sightings or signs in future, it might be possible to keep bed bugs at bay.

We need to educate people and have them take some responsibility for preventing infestations and identifying infestations early. I realize it is difficult, but I think when you empower people by educating them and showing them their complaints will be responded to in a professional, efficient way, then they will cooperate. Obviously, they probably need some financial help–like being provided with encasements that can help keep bed bugs from installing themselves, when they are reintroduced.

I don’t think traditional treatments are the way to go when a building full of people have been suffering for 16 months.

3 Bugalina June 16, 2007 at 1:55 pm

Imho, I don’t think Vikane is a viable solution for a bldg. that houses the elderly and disabled..just google it and see why I think so. In a perfect world, everyone would have the academic reasoning and financial means, to detect and treat bed bugs at their earliest stages. There are many segments of our population who do not have the capacity to do so. For those who made calls to the NYC 311 dept. and got the response from those who are getting paid by tax dollars, they know all too well how bureaucracy works. These people in this Denver bldg, many who may have poor eyesight, mental deficiencies, mobility impairments…..are at the mercy of these bureaucratic buffoons….The list of those who are spreading fear, making money , and doing little to nothing to help stop this epidemic both private and public, are too many to list….I am not going to “go there”…..I have little faith in anyone these days. There is a willing “righteous indignation contingency” out there, who are just waiting to pounce on anyone who has the “balls” to speak up…in the meantime there’s plenty of blood out there for the bed bugs…enough for everyone to get a turn…

4 nobugsonme June 16, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Bugalina,

I understand why Vikane is not great, but I think (as I said) it is much better than spraying with traditional methods when you have such a seriously infested building.

I am not trying to give you a hard time, but you are being very vague, and I am not sure what you’re trying to say should happen. If you don’t want to say anything more specific, that’s fine, but I am not sure who you’re attacking, that’s all.

5 hopelessnomo June 17, 2007 at 11:14 pm

I think I understand Bugalina’s frustration. However, this is an example of the heartbreaking complexities and I don’t think there are clear answers. Parakeets told us that municipalities reallocating funds for bedbug treatments was discussed in the conference she attended. These Denver residents are stuck seeking a legal remedy that will take a very long time (the corporation that owns the building was not even present at this hearing, which probably means these poor people face quite an uphill battle). The housing people say they can’t withhold payment of the rent subsidy as it would make things worse. Look at what some tenants wrote about the building here. Clearly, and perhaps not surprisingly, bedbugs are not the only issue here. (Also, bedbugs since 2002?) This is not just about bedbugs. It’s about poverty and what we, as a society, tolerate.

6 nyjammin June 18, 2007 at 9:08 am

Hello. Nyjammin here. It always says “anonymous” so I’d thought I’d say who I am. Anyway, like I said in past posts on the forums, it is the poor and the elderly, disabled and all those other people with limited income and physical limitations like poor eyesight, mobility, etc. that will suffer the most. The rich will be able to shrug it off as another expense they have to deal with. Having bedbugs or not will be determined by what is in your bank account, sorry to say. I read about this rich elderly man in NYC who had bedbugs. He got his apartment treated and he stayed out for about 10 days. He got rid of his bedbugs, alright. Cost: Around $16,000. I don’t know what article is was because I’ve been reading so much lately. Bugalina, you taking a break from all this is great. I’m glad you could do this. You are one of the lucky ones that can just “go away”. Please do not take this the wrong way. I’m jealous of you. My family and my children cannot just “take a break” from this because we still have bbs. I’m jealous of all of the people who don’t have bbs in this world. Bugalina, your posts are great. I read them all the time because you are a true bedbug eradication advocate. Hopeless, the bedbug conference, I believe, only deals with the state of Massachusetts. One state and 49 to go (or do we have 58 states like someone mentioned?). How many years will it take? I think a long time, unfortunately. Every time a bedbug problem is mentioned it’s like a joke, Ellen, Good Morning America, Ocean’s 13. This is no joke. And only us here in the forum are paying attention. No one publicly is REALLY paying attention, sorry to say. America needs to wake up.

7 hopelessnomo June 18, 2007 at 11:05 am

Maybe. But before we take positions in a class war, we have to realize that people from all income brackets are affected. In bad ways. In NYC, there are fairly decent buildings fighting infestations for years. That journalist who was badly infested and fled, fled from a “nice” building. Greed and incompetence, and ignorance, know no bounds. Doing the right thing requires will and knowledge. Pitting rich against poor does not clarify the issues, which are complex enough as they are.

8 nobugsonme June 18, 2007 at 11:25 am

Good point, Nomo.

Jammin, I don’t believe it’s true that people aren’t paying attention. For Ellen to make a joke about bed bugs, or Ocean’s 13 to use it as a pivot in their plotline, people have to have heard about bed bugs–actual, nasty, hope-you-don’t-get-’em bed bugs. Because none of this “buzz” would have been happening in, say, 2003, when relatively few people had ever had them, and they were still considered a freak occurrence. They’ve spread so much that stars know people with bed bugs. And as much as we might envy their ability to escape them more swiftly, they’re freaked out too.

Bed bugs were on the front page of the real estate section of the NY Times last fall:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/23407861@N00/271491120/
Not as a joke, but as a serious concern.

Maybe soon they will be on the front page, period.

The bed bug conference in Boston was wonderful, but it is not an entirely isolated incident. We’ve reported on many events were tenants, landlords, apt. managers, hotel managers, etc. were educated about bed bugs. I know the entomologists and PCOs who read the blog and comment often give talks to educate the public.

And although many or maybe even most people who visit this website have bed bugs (or think they do), or work to fight them, some readers are just curious. Last month the blog had 12,000 different visitors; 7,000 had never been here before. (The forum is another story: most people won’t leave a forum message unless they really need help. So there aren’t that many people on the forum.)

Word is getting out. And I firmly believe a critical mass of people is developing who are angry and freaked out about bed bugs, who had them or knew those who did, and it will help lead to change.

9 nobugsonme June 18, 2007 at 11:40 am

Re-posted from another thread for Jammin,

Special for all my “Anonymous” kids–u2dan, Jammin, and the other one (don’t know who you are but I know you’re on the forums):

Listen, your login from the forums will work here. I don’t know why it does not recognize you. Here’s what to do: go to the top right corner of this page: Do you see the word “Login”? If so, click it, and login with your forum login.

If you instead see the word “Logout,” click that! Logout! Then you will see Login, and you can click it and login.

Sorry the blog is not recognizing you, maybe it’s because you do not allow cookies.

As I said to Jammin, anonymous comments are always allowed, but it’s fun when we can all greet you by name.

10 nyjammin June 18, 2007 at 9:58 pm

Hey, nobugs, I now see my login name. I have evolved from anonymous to, well, ME!

Hopeless, I’m not pitting rich against poor. I’m just saying the poor will suffer more without a way out. That journalist had an option, to move. People with a little more money do have more options, I feel. Can I move, no. I may be moving but that has to do with the apartment lottery which is a totally different situation. I can’t just pack up and go so to speak. And you said “pitting the rich against the poor”. I was not blaming the rich at all. I was just stating that it’s easier financially for people who have a little more wealth. I know it’s not easy on anyone, rich or poor for this epidemic. I don’t wish this on anyone from anywhere or any background or financial status. Regards to you hopeless.

Nobugs, thanks for informing me that this epidemic is not as buried as I thought it was.

11 hopelessnomo June 18, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Yes, of course. Bedbugs became associated with poverty before they were “eradicated.” There is no reason to doubt this can happen again.

12 nobugsonme June 19, 2007 at 12:15 am

Speaking of the bad old days– does everyone remember the BAD thing it’s said people used to do to kill bed bugs: drowing the contents of their homes in kerosene?

(This is extremely flamable and extremely dangerous, please do not even consider it.)

Well, British bed bug PCO David Cain wrote recently on our forums that several cases came up recently in the UK where people had drowned the contents of their home in petrol (gasoline)…
http://bedbugger.com/forum/topic/423?replies=15

(This is extremely flamable and extremely dangerous, please do not even consider it.)

That people are trying such dangerous and unnecessary methods should be a wake up call to our governments and social service agencies that bed bugs are extremely disturbing to live with and that people need help.

13 Bugalina June 19, 2007 at 12:52 am

NYjaming…You know that my heart breaks for you….The way this epidemic is going there is a definite divide on who will be able to get rid of bed bugs…those who can pay for the high cost of extermination and all the “accessory tools” that go along with it, versus those who just cannot afford it. Our bed bug infestation cost us thousands and thousands of dollars, the extermination, the cost of moves and the loss of expensive beds and furniture. I think its a travesty that this ” bug Katrina” is being ignored by our government. Yes, I am mad and frustrated. It has been over one year since I was infested and there is NOTHING new being offered that can exterminate the monsters that doesn’t cost lots of money. I am repulsed by the flippant attitudes of people who work in the private and public sectors , who are privy to the “secret world of bed bug infestation” going on. Let me remind all of the flippant remark that Mayor Bloomberg said to me when I phoned ( last year) into the Friday afternoon radio program “ask the mayor”….he said.. “Well, what do you want me to do , appoint a bed bug Czar”? MY answer is …Yes you elitist Pri-k…I do expect you to appoint a bed bug Czar……I expect you to be able to eradicate a bug in the year 2007 like our government did all throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s….I think that basic dignities are what your constituents expect and deserve. Bed bugs started to appear in the late 1990’s and they were very problematic by 2003….The very fact that there are no public service announcements out there is criminal…the fact that there is no supervised sanitation pickups for bed bug infested mattresses and furniture in NYC is criminal…NY politicians are very aware of this epidemic but they choose to do nothing…..I am fed up and disgusted by them….and I agree with NYjaming..I was very disappointed that Ellyn Degeneres turned bed bugs into “laughs”…..There is nothing funny about bed bugs…Its sickening that people who could help do not….and those in postitions of power seem to think that “accepting the epidmeic” is what we must do…..I am sick of hearing about “resistance”….as far as I am concerned..the bed bugs are winning because people who should be making strides are not because they are incapable and narrow minded . LIke I said…if we could remove the enormous profits and egos and ineptness from the equation maybe then we would have a much better handle on this fast moving bug epidemic. Its a bug…and it needs a pesticide… bug death = pesticide with decent residual….affordable, effective pesticide…that’s all folks…

14 D June 19, 2007 at 2:19 am

First of all, before anyone asks… I have no idea of the legality of using Vikane in Denver! 🙂
I had a good friend who lived in Halcyon House until he passed away a few years ago. He was paraplegic. Based on him & his living conditions & what I saw of others when I visited, here are some sad realities for many of these these residents:
Many of them have motorized hospital type beds to keep them from getting bed sores. They can’t be encased, elevated or otherwise protected the way most of us have done ours, and replacing them is financially prohibitive. My friend was in & out of the hospital due to his condition, & had much convalescent time at home, in bed, 24 hours a day for a week or 2 at a time.
Many have nursing assistants in their apartments at least twice daily to help them get up in the morning & go to bed at night. Talk about the potential for spreading bugs! These are usually traveling CNA’s who go from one client straight to another.
The wheelchair bound go straight from their beds to their chairs… then they may have infested chairs. Many of these residents may be missing hands or arms… no Ziplocks for clothes & linens!

Even the answers that we consider to be the easy ones aren’t easy for most of these people. Keep ’em in your prayers, folks!

15 nobugsonme June 19, 2007 at 11:33 am

Thanks D. Yes, it is a very difficult situation.

I have seen hospital beds that were “sealed mattresses” (wipe clean, no seams, solid vinyl exterior), and I think this is fairly typical of hospital beds (sealed mattresses are also found in other institutions like prisons) so there are options there.

But the rest of what we do would be very difficult or impossible for the residents. Solutions must be found and protocols developed. Not keeping disabled peoples’ homes free of bed bugs is a terrible “other option”.

16 nyjammin June 19, 2007 at 12:39 pm

I’m confused. Why is it that as Hopeless said.. “Yes, of course. Bedbugs became associated with poverty before they were “eradicated.” There is no reason to doubt this can happen again.” How is it that the rich were not affected by them? Did they have “means” to get rid of them that the poor did not? It’s funny how things change. I read a couple hundred years ago that bbs were associated with the rich because the rich were housed in castles and the poor in huts w/o heat and they slept on straw which bbs did not like. You could tell people were rich by the bites on their bodies.

Hopeless, you also said that “In NYC, there are fairly decent buildings fighting infestations for years.” Why is that? I don’t understand? Not because the buildings are “decent” but because it’s taking so long to get rid of them. Why? Does it have to be like this?

17 hopelessnomo June 19, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Hi Jammin. I’m not sure that it’s helpful to employ these categories in this way, but I’ll do my best.

It’s not correct to say that “the rich were not affected” — no such thing can be asserted with any authority. Before the wide use of synthetic pesticides, it is probable that anyone could get them and we know of people in all walks of life who, in fact, did. I just said that bedbugs, as in “chronic” bedbug infestations, became associated with poverty and with the conditions of poverty (overcrowding, extreme lack of sanitation, deteriorating structures, etc.). That is a statement about perception, but of course based upon reality. Obviously, someone living in an infested tenement had no hope of ever being bedbug-free. The conditions would not allow it, no matter how much personal effort went into it. (And the oral histories bear this out with heartbreaking clarity.)

If an infestation in a building is left uncontrolled, or controlled piecemeal, as in spraying some apartments here and there, but not taking measures in all apartments at the same time, the infestation spreads to a point where temporary abatement in some units is all that is achieved and eradication becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. If there are widespread bedbugs inside the walls of a structure, structural fumigation is apparently the solution of last resort.

18 hopelessnomo June 21, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Another story about Halcyon House.

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