Bed bugs in San Francisco SROs

by nobugsonme on March 19, 2010 · 9 comments

in 311, bed bugs, san francisco

“The biggest problem in the neighborhood, after crack, is bed bugs.” Those are the words of Joseph Jones, a 70-year old resident of a Single Room Occupancy apartment (SRO) in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.  Jones is quoted this 2009 article from Race, Poverty and the Environment.

This week, Mission Loc@l reports that while a horrifying 73.4% of SRO residents in San Francisco’s Mission District have bed bugs, less than 12% surveyed have complained to the city about any SRO problem, apparently due to a lack of awareness that the option of calling 311 is there.

In order to counteract this lack of awareness,  there’s now legislation under consideration to require SRO building landlords to display a poster alerting residents to the availability of the 311 hotline, and informing them of some reasons they might call it.

According to Mission Loc@l,

If the ordinance passes, the fine for failing to put up the poster would be $170, said William Strawn, communications manager at the Department of Building Inspection.

The poster reads: “SRO Tenants: This is your number! If your manager has not responded to your complaints about: bugs, rodents, fire hazards, second hand smoke in common areas, electrical or plumbing problems, no heat, unsanitary conditions, broken windows, or floors, or mold or mildew…Call 3-1-1.”

[Emphasis added.]

The poster is trilingual, in English, Chinese, and Spanish, and also contains contact information for the four San Francisco SRO Collaboratives, non-profit organizations which support SRO tenants.

Josh Vining, a community organizer with the Mission group, said that up until now, the service has been promoted only by word of mouth. Building inspections are less random and more complaint driven nowadays, he said, which makes the calls all the more important.

You hear that, San Francisco?  Call 311 and use your complaint to drive some inspections.

In San Francisco, calls regarding bed bugs in apartments (SROs or otherwise) are routed to the Department of Environmental Health.

If you’re in an SRO and have bed bugs, please call 311.

If you’re renting in another type of multi-unit building in San Francisco, you can report bed bugs by calling Norma Castro at 415-252-3805.


photo credit: mayorgavinnewsom on flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

1 ihatebedbugs20 March 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Hi Nobugsonme, I’m new to the site so I did not know how else to contact you other than leave a comment on your latest post. I discovered this site yesterday and found links to the study done by S and G. It was amazing reading S’ journal entries because her thoughts are exactly mine now. I’m discovering some perhaps new “bites” on the middle of my chest, neck and back. It is indeed the season where mosquitoes are coming out, but these new “bites” are NOT flaring up at all like my other bed bug bites. They simply are very small, red when scratched, and have a slight itch. I can distinguish these from pimples because pimples hurt when pressed. Also, when taking a hot shower, bed bug bites tend to feel good in my opinion under hot water, while pimples do not. The ones on my neck, chest and back have a slight feeling of this satisfaction that I got from the hot water on my other bites, but not as intense. It COULD possibly be because these “bites” are in areas that aren’t as sensitive as under the forearm as mentioned in S’ journal and feedback on that journal.. but I have had bed bug bites in these area, like on face that flared up, and on chin that flared up, as well as neck that flared up. I might note that these flared up bed bug bites were on the BACK of my neck, and these new “bites” are on the front. Also, I have had flared up bed bug bites on my chest, however, these bites were more under my nipple area, while these new “bites” are right in the center of my chest, as well as a few right to my left nipple. Perhaps location is playing role, or these new “bites” are just flare ups from irritation of something? I also might note I have a history of developing irritations on my chest, especially center of chest from who knows what, perhaps from heat, as it is getting warmer out.
Ones on back are not flaring up as well, and are already scabbed after scratching them, while bed bug bites did not scab fast at all, instead, got real puffy and red, these are not.

What are your thoughts?

2 ihatebedbugs20 March 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I also sent an email to an entomologist I found online who has responded to me in the past, but here is the question and situation I described to him, I would like your feed back on it as well:

I have a quick question for you.. I found 2 black spots on the pages of this book I was reading, (Imagine a book closed, and when you turn it up you can see the 2 spots, the spots were not on ONE page) and when i scratched them they did not smear, but they kind of turned reddish, with some reddish getting scratched onto the surrounding area of the initial black spot. This book was on my desk and nothing else on my desk, or my desk itself had a black spot. Could it possibly just be ink from a pen? I read that the black stains of bed bugs would usually just smear if rubbed, the spots on my book pages had to be scratched for anything to move/change. What do you think?

I also thoroughly checked my whole room today, from under the carpet, shelves, under shelves, cracks of every single thing in my room. I did not find any traces of spots, shells and bugs, even though I probably wouldn’t find any to begin with.

I also found 2 smudges on the baseboard of the wall near my closet while vacuuming, and I bent down to smear them to see if they smeared, and yes they both did.. I foolishly did it really fast without examining them so I could not tell what they really were, but when I smelled my finger it smelled sort of sweet, kind of like deodorant. I would’nt really know what it could be on the wall its just faint smears of some sort, darkish color. Also noted under baseboard is a slight crack that separates floor from wall, and if I do have bed bugs this is a possible hiding spot.. I plan on sliding a card under the wall all around the wall to see if anything gets crushed or caught onto the card..I’d assume I’d find something stuck to the card if bugs were hiding

3 Cilecto March 21, 2010 at 8:05 pm

IHBB20: Welcome. You’ll find wisdom, compassion and camaraderie in the forum:

4 nobugsonme March 22, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Hi ihatebedbugs20,

I would suggest reposting your entire comment(s) on our forums. You will likely get more helpful responses there.

If you had only found what looked like black ink stains in a book, my first thought would be “ink”! Seeing them on the baseboards is a lot more suspicious. I am not an expert on what you see or smell when you smudge a bed bug fecal stain, but you’ll get a lot of input on the forums, I am sure. Your instincts with the card are good, but remember there are a LOT of places bed bugs can hide besides the baseboard cracks. They can hide in the cracks inside a bed frame, for example, and you might not see them unless you disassembled the whole thing and looked everywhere.

The detection FAQ should be useful to you and outlines various possibilities (expensive and cheap) for detecting bed bugs.

I would recommend a cheap and useful item: ClimbUp Interceptors. You can read more about them here. They’re about $20 to fit a bed, and should help you discover not only if bed bugs are climbing onto or off of your bed, but which of those two they are doing. You may have bed bugs in other places besides the bed, but it’s a safe bet they’re probably trying to feed on you in there if you have them.

Anyway, as I said, try the forums also and feel free to continue this conversation in there also. I’ll look for you there!

5 nobugsonme March 22, 2010 at 8:03 pm

From listening to lots of people explain their bed bug bite experiences, I have gathered that it’s possible for the same person to experience different reactions to bed bug bites on different parts of the body, at different times of day or on different days. I would not assume that the new bites are not bites. You have to remember that S and G were fighting a long drawn-out battle with bed bugs, so the possibility that S was still being bitten seems to be there, as well as the possibility that she was having some kind of sensitivity or after effects. We really know very little about this area.

You have not determined for sure whether you have bed bugs, but as long as you’re having any kind of skin reaction, it seems like a good possibility, and I would aggressively try to determine this (per my other response in this thread) and I would also keep a log of where “bites” appear on your body, what they’re like (just as you are describing them here), and when they appear. This may help you see patterns which may help you figure this out.

6 bugration March 28, 2010 at 6:30 am

The fact that 73.4% of SRO residents in San Francisco’s Mission District have bedbugs is a simply shocking statistic.

What I don’t understand is, if these figures are accurate then wouldn’t the entire district (not just SRO accommodation), not to mention the city as a whole, rapidly reach very high levels of infestation, perhaps approaching the alleged 33% infestation rate of London and Stockholm in the 1930s? I gather that Mission District is a pretty large area, so think of all the people living there spreading them to public transport, workplaces, moving vans and so on.

7 nobugsonme March 31, 2010 at 6:06 pm


You are absolutely asking the right questions.

Yes — if 73.4% of SRO residents in the Mission have bed bugs, San Francisco is in big trouble.

8 Martin Felten April 13, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I was exposed to bedbug agony in 2007, and they’re back in 2010. Folks, I believe that
we are not getting good information on bedbugs. There are all sorts of urban legends
being floated. What’s true and what’s not, I don’t know. I have a strong feeling that
no one knows what they are about including the pest control cos., management
cos., and the San Francisco Health Department. I also believe that tenants and landlords are becoming very reticent to talk about the problem because of consequences that they mightn’t be able to control. For tenants, surely there is a product that can mitigate or prevent an infestation from spreading; however, we should be careful
abut the use of pesticides.

9 nobugsonme April 14, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Hi Martin,

I agree that people need to be careful with pesticides. I personally recommend people get treatment for bed bugs from experienced, licensed professionals — both to make sure pesticides are used safely, and to help get rid of the problem more quickly.

Steam, diatomaceous earth (DE), and pesticides can be used safely if people do their research and know what they’re doing. We have FAQs on using steam and DE.

If we were aware of a do-it-yourself product which could eliminate an infestation or keep it from spreading, we would be thrilled to tell you about it.

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