Joe Fiorito has another bed bug story in the Toronto Star today. He starts by describing pictures a public health official shows him from infestations he has encountered:
Reg Ayre tapped his computer keyboard and up popped a photo of a polka dot pillow on a lonesome bed; not polka dots. “Those specks are blood,” said Reg. “The blood is from bedbug bites. You can see the pillow has not been washed.”
He tapped the keyboard again and up popped a photo of sawdust on the floor in one corner of a lonesome room; not sawdust. “Bedbugs,” said Reg. They were so thick you could have scooped them up with your hands.
Ayre is the Manager of Healthy Environments for Toronto Public Health. His department has just tabled a report about bedbugs with the board of health.
The report is written in committee language and is not as graphic as the photos. But, Ayre said, “The report establishes a bedbug action committee. We don’t want another policy group. We want action.”
And action is just what is needed!
While I don’t think New York City has an, ahem, “Manager for Healthy Environments,” we need just this sort of activity to be taken by Reg Ayre’s counterparts in San Francisco, Boston, and everywhere else bed bugs are biting.
Some New York Bedbuggers are organizing a campaign you will be hearing more about very soon — a campaign to press our local officials to take this kind of action.
Fiorito asks Ayre just the right questions:
So who’s on the committee? “There will be landlord and tenant reps from across the GTA [Greater Toronto Area], from both private and community housing. Public Health will be on the committee, and licensing and standards, shelter support and housing, social services, community groups and reps from the Community Care Action Centres.
“I’m trying to work with other resources. We’ve got pilot projects going in St. James Town and in smaller buildings downtown. Seaton House is doing an amazing job for us.” Seaton House, a men’s shelter, has trained some of its residents as exterminators; they have been helping people move furniture and prepare for spraying; this is so practical it’s radical.
Ayre said, “The committee is going to meet on the 17th of the month with a facilitator to develop some hard objectives, to plan a way forward, to create a template we can apply throughout the city.” Because the problem is city-wide.
Bed bugs are a serious problem for people of all social classes and in all physical conditions. But the most severely hit are those who are poor, elderly, or disabled–especially if they do not have anyone to call on for help. Fiorito’s conversation with Ayre covered one such tragic example:
[Ayre said:] “There was a tragic case of a woman with a variety of disabilities.” She was alone and being eaten alive by bugs.
“She had a social worker but that link was broken. My worker is helping her deal with (the Ontario support program) to get new furniture, to get funds, to work with her landlord. We’re trying to get her linked back with her family.
“But my staff aren’t social workers. They don’t have that training. And one of these cases might take months to resolve.” Yet his staff do not turn away.
And then he said something I find shocking.
“It’s my impression that bedbugs are just a symptom. People in this community are living without the supports they need to lead a healthy life.”
Fiorito also reminds those in Toronto
If you have bedbugs and don’t know how to cope, call Public Health: 416-338-7600.
In an article published January 16th, Fiorito quoted Ayre at greater length:
“If you need help, call Toronto Public Health. If we can’t answer your questions, we’ll send someone out. Then, if you need assistance, we’ll try to bring all the resources we can. We’ll be an intermediary. There are people who are afraid to clean up: contact us. But you have to be prepared to accept help … whether it’s a health hazard or not is on the periphery of the discussion. This is a social problem with health implications. It’s the most vulnerable who are suffering.”
So Reg Ayre means it, if you are in Toronto and have bed bugs and need help, seriously, call TPH.
Although other health departments do not appear to be offering help, I think that’s good advice for anyone, anywhere–to call your local health department, I mean. They may not know what to do with you, they may not think dealing with bed bugs is part of their jurisdiction. They certainly are not offering to come out and help you clean, yet. But we need to make it their concern.
I spoke with one public health official in California, who said that at a conference of public health officers, others were saying they never got calls about bed bugs. If they do not hear from people about the problem, then they do not know it is happening in their jurisdiction. If you have bed bugs and don’t know how to cope, and your city has said nothing as to who you should call, then call the public health department in your city or county. Demand help.