Homeless shelters are vectors for bed bug dispersal

Programs that house the “hard to house” have been having problems with bed bugs for a very long time. In response to the constant infestations many housing coordinators have been soliciting donations to replace the beds and furniture with all steel units. The thinking is that if the dressers and box springs are constantly being infested they need to be replaced with items that are less likely to be infested. In Winnipeg I am aware of two large organizations that have completed this furniture transition.

I had a chance meeting with a gentleman who had been living at one of these shelters and had moved into an apartment. I was called to address his bed bugs. As always I took the opportunity to question this gentleman about his experience with bed bugs at the shelter. He stated that one thing he particularly disliked was that he often had bed bugs in his clothing when he woke up in the morning.

As discussed earlier we know that bed bugs prefer to harbour in cloth and raw wood. The shelter had removed most of the good harbourage in the rooms (steel beds and dressers) which pushed the bugs into the clothes. It is therefore not surprising that the tenant constantly had bed bugs in his clothing in the morning – the bed bug protocols were designed to facilitate that exact process.

From a public policy perspective the removal of harbourage areas in the shelters is an unmitigated disaster. The folks living in these shelters become walking infestation machines causing great harm in public areas. And to add insult to injury the shelters become extremely difficult to treat for bed bugs because they are constantly being reinfested – which in turn causes more harm to public areas. A vicious circle. It is time to reevaluate those bed bug programs.



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