Bed bugs bite
Torres Community Shelter temporarily closed to battle bed-bug infestation
The Torres Community Shelter was forced to shut down service to the homeless at its Silver Dollar Way location in south Chico and move operations to the First Baptist Church on Palmetto Avenue on Oct. 14. Brad Montgomery, the shelter’s executive director, said a resilient infestation of bed bugs had forced the temporary shift.
The 120-bed shelter was fumigated by Clark Pest Control in the hopes that it would be open again for human guests by Thursday, Oct. 16.
Bed bugs feed on the blood of people and animals, usually at night while the person or animal is sleeping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flat, reddish-brown, quarter-inch-long bugs crawl to get around, or else are carried about by their hosts.
The blood-sucking bugs were first noticed in the shelter about six months ago, Montgomery said. This marked the first time the pests have ever been detected in the 14-year history of the shelter.
“We tried different treatments that at first really seemed to be effective, and [the bed bugs would] disappear for a while,” he said. “But we found out a fair amount about these insects’ lifestyle, including that they can go without eating for up to a year. …
“You can do something to eradicate most of them and it seems like they’ve gone away, but they’re actually in the walls breeding and building up a higher tolerance level for the treatment you’re using.”
Montgomery said those treatments included heat, various sprays and fumigation concentrated in particular areas where the bugs were spotted.
“It seemed like none of these things completely eradicated the problem,” he said. “So now we are taking a much more aggressive step because we want to be completely rid of them.”
The shelter’s guests were moved to the First Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall. That facility shares its restrooms with Rose Scott Open-Structure School, which occupies two classrooms at the rear of the church property. The move had some parents and teachers concerned that the bugs may accompany the shelter-users and invade the school. A letter to parents dated Oct. 14 from Cindy Carlson, the school’s curriculum director and lead teacher, addressed those concerns.
She wrote that the school was unaware of the bed-bug issue until told late Thursday (Oct. 10) evening by church Pastor Ted Sandberg, and that few details were initially provided.
“We have been assured, by both Pastor Ted and the Torres Shelter, that we would not have any problems due to those in need,” the letter says. “They will arrive in the Fellowship Hall around 4:30 p.m. and will be gone before any of your children arrive in the morning. We do know that they will be screened before they are let in and all their bedding and bags will be left outside.”
In a press release, Montgomery, the shelter’s executive director, thanked Sandberg and the church for allowing use of its facilities. The problem the shelter faces is considerable in a number of ways, he said, including health and financial concerns.
Clark Pest Control is offering a reduced rate for its services, but the infestation is still a financial hardship, Montgomery said.
“We are getting a discount,” he said, “but it is costing $11,500, which, at the rate of $15 per person, is equal to 767 nights of stay for us. The expense will basically exhaust our reserve fund for any unforeseen problems having to do with building, maintenance or facility concerns.”
The pest-control company placed a tent over the building on Monday morning, Oct. 14, and then sprayed with Vikane, Dow Chemical Co.’s brand name for the fumigant insecticide sulfuryl fluoride. After the gas evaporated, the company was to go back into the building for tests. (Similarly, Rose Scott School and the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall were to be inspected by Clark Pest Control after the homeless guests leave.)
“They believe it’ll be safe to come back in around noon on Wednesday, but we’ve given ourselves a cushion just in case,” Montgomery said. “And we do have a backup plan of potentially staying [at the church] another night if there are still pockets of chemicals in the building.”
He said the shelter is adopting new procedures that are “both respectful and thorough” as far as checking for bugs that may be coming in on guests’ possessions or on the guests themselves. The new procedures will also increase costs, he added.
Darren Jones, an environmental-health specialist with the Butte County Health Department, said there has been an increase in the number of bed-bug sightings reported recently, but that may be misleading.
“It’s becoming more public now as it’s more often in the news,” he said. “Locally owned hotels and apartment complexes and multiple-unit living quarters are reporting bed bugs. And there are stories of people bringing the bugs into their homes in college areas where they buy second-hand furniture and other goods.”
According to the CDC, America is one of many countries now experiencing “an alarming resurgence” in bed-bug populations. The exact cause is not clear at this point, but scientists suspect it is associated with the bugs’ increased resistance to available pesticides, a jump in international travel, a general ignorance about the proper control of bed bugs these days because they seemed to be “gone” for so long, as well as the ongoing decline or elimination of pest-control programs at state and local public-health agencies.
For his part, Montgomery said he appreciates the support received to this point.
“I’d like to thank the Red Cross for providing us with some cots so we wouldn’t have to move mattresses,” he said, “and the Salvation Army, which has given us mattresses in previous times. And I want to thank the Jesus Center for allowing us to use their trucks for transport, and all the organizations and individuals that are stepping up to help us.”
Montgomery also encourages donations from the public to help the shelter weather this bed-bug storm by sending checks payable to the Torres Community Shelter at 101 Silver Dollar Way, Chico, CA, 95928, or by making an online donation at www.chicoshelter.org.
The shelter, he noted in his press release, “increases people’s chances of stabilizing their lives and improving their circumstances.
“In the past 12 months, we served 729 people, who were staying with us and not living on the streets, and we set a record of helping 301 people escape homelessness and move into a more stable situation.”