Windsor, Ontario: bed bugs in public housing

by nobugsonme on September 20, 2007 · 5 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs in apartments, bed bugs in low-income housing, bed bugs in public housing, canada, clothing, government, ontario, public health

More stories from large, infested buildings: this time, from 920 Ouellette Ave. in Windsor. The Windsor Star reports that John Fontaine, a 62-year old cab driver, is sleeping on his balcony in an attempt to avoid being bitten. It’s a tactic others have tried, though I am not certain it accomplishes much.

The Windsor-Essex County Housing Association, which owns John Fontaine’s building, is taking action. But not very swiftly, in this reader’s opinion.

Fontaine said the problem surfaced several months ago when management posted a noticed advising tenants to stay out of the disposal room where refuse and old furniture is put handled. He said he started noticing the odd insect in his apartment six weeks ago, but didn’t realize they were bed bugs until Labour Day weekend when he spoke to someone who told him they were in the building.

If the disposal room was off limits several months ago because of bed bugs (which I understand to be a reasonable bit of speculation), then the building was aware of the presence of bed bugs but did not warn residents. Fontaine reported his bed bugs on September 4th (the day after Labour Day) but was not told he was on a “spray list” until September 18th, two weeks later. What’s more, there was a presentation for residents on bed bugs and cockroaches two weeks ago, according to the article, implying that by the time Fontaine reported the problem, the building managers knew enough about the spread of bed bugs in their building to have planned a presentation about the insects.

The housing officials had this to say:

Kari Schofield, communications officer for the housing corporation, said Fontaine’s apartment would have been sprayed immediately had they known he was sleeping on the balcony.

“If we heard somebody was sleeping on a balcony for three weeks we would definitely be there,” Schofield said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

It sounds like Schofield thinks that sleeping on a balcony is a real hardship. Why wouldn’t sleeping indoors with bed bugs prompt the swiftest possible service?

While the apology is refreshing, this statement tells me that the housing corporation officials simply don’t understand bed bugs.

Schofield said a presentation was made to tenants several weeks ago on bed bugs and cockroaches, but said it is a very difficult problem to get rid of. If a unit is sprayed and clean and someone with bed bugs walks into it, the problem re-occurs, she said. The corporation’s Glengarry units are also experiencing the problem, which is compounded by the fact some tenants are old, disabled or have mental health issues and may not be able to keep their units clean enough, or prepare them properly for complete spraying.

“I can totally understand how these tenants are getting frustrated,” Schofield said, adding that a task force has been formed to deal with the issue of infestation.

Fontaine said he works long days and was not aware that any such educational sessions were offered.

Schofield is correct that a mojor factor is preparation. Bed bugs are not attracted to dirty or cluttered spaces. But clutter allows them space to hide, and makes treatment tricky. Tenants who are old, or who have mental or physical disabilities, will have trouble with preparing for treatment. I firmly believe the government social service agencies need to provide assistance in this area.

Leaving aside those with physical and mental barriers to doing the prep work needed for treatment, it has to be said that still other tenants will simply not get the point of preparation or even the point of treatment, or may not want to bother. This is a really common problem–especially among those who are not allergic to bed bugs and don’t feel or see evidence of bites. Public education is key. And forums where tenants are invited are not going to do it, because some people won’t hear, some people won’t make it, and still others won’t think it’s “for them,” and won’t care. We need a public education campaign of advertisements to raise awareness about the bed bug epidemic, and the difficulties of detecting and fighting bed bugs. People need to learn how to avoid bed bugs and what not to do at the first sight of them.

Besides spraying, [Deb] Bennett [of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit] said, people must wash bedding and thoroughly vacuum crevasses in furniture and mattresses where the blood-sucking bed bugs like to hide out. Although more of a nuisance than anything else, their itchy bites can result in infection if the skin is broken during scratching, she said.

“When you have a lot of people, everybody has to practice that … or the problem does not go away.”

I hope Bennett also tells people to wash and dry (on hot) and seal in bags all clothing as well as bedding.

And I hope the 920 Ouellette apartments in Windsor are going to get multiple treatments until the problem is gone. I am not a pest control operator, but I would venture a guess that a thoroughly infested building will need many treatments, spaced 2 weeks apart.

And let’s remember, it’s six weeks since the bites started, and Mr. Fontaine has not yet had his first treatment. And every time he’s bitten by an adult female, she can produce another set of eggs.

1 Irene January 24, 2009 at 11:30 am

My mother lives in the Cencourse Apartments on Tuscarora in Windsor…I know of several apartments that have had bed-bug infestation for the past two years, [ 2007-2009 ].

Now my 88 year old mother, who has always been the one of the most fastidious persons living in this building has had a third course of these insidious creatures. Despite numerous treatments from the pest controllers, her apartment is still infested. I do believe they are coming into her unit from the hallways with her comings and goings. Several tenants have had to have medical intervention due to the nasty bites on their bodies, my mother included.

How much more can these residents endure before the Public Health is involved.? From my own personal inquiries, the Cencourse is not the only apartment building dealing with this crisis yet there still is no solution. It seems like we are living in the dark ages.

2 nobugs January 25, 2009 at 2:38 am

Hi Irene,

I wonder if you and your mother would consider contacting Doug Williamson of the Windsor Star? He wrote the article that was linked from the post above, and he did this in September, 2007.

He might be interested to know that the problems are widespread, and still going on (and in additional complexes) today.

The news media often takes an interest in cases that involve multiple units, especially if they have gone on for two years. It often helps if multiple tenants are willing to speak to them.

Calling local news stations (especially those with “consumer help”-type features) is another idea in terms of drawing attention to this.

Although bed bugs are spreading fast and hard to deal with, it can help in the short term to direct attention to your case. It may, with any luck, also help long-term, if the residents of Windsor demand help from public officials, based in part on such stories.

3 Mel July 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

Hi Irene! I hope your poor grandmother’s situation has been resolved.
I wish I found this article BEFORE I moved into the Glengarry Units in last year! I just found evidence of bedbugs in my apartment after several months of living there. I am apparently really allergic to them and the number of live insects I have found late at night are small. But I feel so frustrated because as a student I wanted to feel more financially secure, not worried and confused! I feel quite helpless b/c I know its probably from my neighbours and the situation will not improve without a decent intervention. The policy of placing people on a 2 week spray list is still effective.

I dont even know if moving is financially a possibility especially because I would have to get rid of my brand new furniture to make sure these creatures do not follow me!

4 Tim May 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm

When I bought my house in Windsor I asked the home inspector if he knew what to look for as signs of bedbugs. He laughed at me like I was a moron and told me Windsor doesnt have bedbugs. Of course this “housemaster” also missed all kinds of things in his inspection.

5 nobugsonme May 31, 2010 at 7:43 pm


Even housing inspectors are just learning about bed bugs.

They are, in fact, everywhere.

I really hope you did not buy a home with bed bugs…

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