Rocky Mountain News Service has an article today by a journalist whose friend Steve is a quadriplegic living in Halcyon House, with bed bugs. It may be the worst thing I’ve read about bed bugs, period. The building has all kinds of other problems, which are horrific in themselves, but the bed bug problem is a particularly sinister one for the mostly disabled and elderly population housed there. And an alleged $15,000 of PCO treatments per month wasn’t cutting it.
The journalist, Tina Griego, describes paying her friend a visit after seeing the article the other day.
We find Steve in his usual spot, in bed. Hey, Dave says, scanning a note from management, you can’t use the emergency doors to get in and out of the building anymore.
I’ll make a note of that, Steve says. He’s paralyzed from the neck down, can’t feel a thing from his Adam’s apple south. Quadzilla, he calls himself. He turns on the lights, the fan, the television and stereo with a plastic straw. Puff or sip. With his breath, he controls his environment.
During the day, he has home health care aides. At night, he is alone. He was helpless when bedbugs infesting his building found his bed. He felt them crawling in his hair, on his neck, his face. He lay there and the bugs bit. It was like being stuck with pins, he says.
“I was scared,” he tells me and Dave. “I wanted a blowtorch. I wanted to die.”
It went on, some months worse than others, for a year and a half.
When you first encounter this story, you think, “Shame on the landlords!” as I did.
Maybe you read the story Dave was talking about. Halcyon House management was cited for failing to maintain pest control. The building has had bedbugs for years. The company, Urban Inc., said the owners, Maine- based American Housing Preservation Corp., ran into a cash shortage. The hearing was reset for next week so the owner’s lawyers could attend.
It’s the kind of story that had me wishing a judge would order the owners to live in the apartments themselves.
But as the discussion of the last post on Bedbugger about this issue suggests, getting rid of bed bugs in a high-rise takes a certain level of involvement–time, physical effort, and money–that these tenants may be unable to provide. Many younger people not dealing with physical conditions, and with more funds, are unwilling or unable to participate to the required level. Just imagine how much harder it is in this situation.
Urban’s managing director, Mark Shulman, acknowledges the Halcyon has problems and says the owners are working on them. He says the building “has faced some pretty serious financial needs” in the last two years and pest control ran the owners $15,000 a month. The owner cannot easily raise rents to cover rising costs because the building is taxpayer-subsidized.
Spraying resumed in mid-May on a twice-weekly schedule after nearly a month’s hiatus. Shulman says the owners also have been negotiating a rent increase with government agencies for more security. “We will have uniformed personnel in the building 2 4/7,” he says.
At the Colorado Housing and Financing Authority, spokesperson Kristine McLain also acknowledges “ongoing concerns” with the Halcyon and says her agency is working with the owners. “In a perfect world, you close down the building,” she says, “but . . .
We finish the sentence at the same time: “. . . where would the tenants go?”
Dave and I visited Steve on Tuesday, a spraying day. He didn’t answer his intercom to buzz us in, so we walked in the way most people do, slipping past a departing tenant. The lobby was empty save for a resident who shot us a disapproving look. We signed in on a clipboard outside the closed office.
Steve was in good spirits. Someone sprayed his room a few weeks ago, and it’s made a difference. He’s also regularly dousing his bed, which has a vinyl mattress, with Real-kill bug killer.
“The whole thing took a lot out of me,” he said. “But I consider myself one of the lucky ones in the building. Some people here can’t communicate at all. Think about them.”
He told us to make sure and check our clothes after we left. “Bedbugs like to burrow in fabric.”
That night, I imagined I felt bugs in my hair. My arms itched. I thought a lot about Steve.
I am still angry at the landlords. But I also think the government should be stepping in. Someone has to do something. This is such a shameful situation–and I am talking about only the bed bugs, but all the other hazards to their physical safety that these tenants are having to put up with. Doesn’t anyone enforce housing codes? Not having working elevators in this place is a serious safety violation, since people can’t get out in an emergency.