This article from the Columbia Tribune explores what it takes for a public housing agency to fight bed bugs in a building designated for people with mental and/or physical disabilities.
The problem at Paquin Towers was first detected in March and has escalated since then, with 10% of the buildings 200 units already having been treated. At first, they were being treated one by one, but the CHA has discovered this is not enough where bed bugs are concerned.
Since [March], the housing authority has treated 20 units for the bugs, [Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus] said. At first, the infestations were discovered and treated one by one, but the CHA now is treating six heavily infested units. Several features of Paquin Tower make the problem tough to tackle.
“What we do know, they are spreading through chases, or service-duct areas between apartments for wiring and plumbing,” Steinhaus said. “Air comes in under doorways, and there is ventilation in the ceilings of bathrooms. That’s how you get air exchange. We can’t go in and seal an apartment up or fog it or bug-bomb it.”
Unfortunately, treating the entire building is not an option. Steinhaus says it costs $2500 to treat one unit (which presumably involves assistance with prep, as well as fumigation of belongings in a truck, and pesticide spraying in the unit — all strategies mentioned in the article). This would amount to 1/2 a million dollars to treat the entire building.
Dealing with bed bug prep and treatment can be disorienting and upsetting for anyone, but for residents of Paquin Tower, these effects can be dangerously disruptive.
“With some of our folks, we have to be very sensitive about their routines,” Steinhaus said. “If they get something that throws their life into turmoil, it can be hard to get back to an even keel again.”
Charles Dudley, a Paquin resident for about 4½ years, said the small units that can resemble dorm rooms lend themselves to clutter. “In this building, there are residents with varying degrees of psychological disorders – hoarders, people with depression, anxiety – and they have accumulated a lot of stuff,” he said. “It’s important to them. How do you determine who should get rid of what? That’s going to be a hard issue to come across.”
Nevertheless residents are being told they must clean and de-clutter by December 17th, when inspections begin. Those who do not comply (with assistance if needed) will have their leases terminated.
Removing bed bugs from a high-rise, where bed bugs may be much more widespread than is already known, will be no easy task, especially given the challenges of the building’s design. The first step is knowledge, and it does sound like the management are aware of the difficulties of treatment, and prepared to support residents who need help.
It is also distressing to think that some residents with mental and/or physical disabilities may be evicted because they resist de-cluttering, prep, and treatment (even with assistance). It’s clear that requiring compliance is essential for the well-being of the rest of the residents, but I do hope support and counseling is being provided to resistant and non-compliant residents, so they can understand the importance of this, and avoid being evicted.