Homeless Say Bed Bugs Keep Them From Shelters

KITV-TV (Honolulu, HW)
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homeless campers forced off of a Beretania Street sidewalk early Monday morning said bedbugs in homeless shelters are keeping them on the streets.

The Institute for Human Services canvassed the homeless encampment across from Aala Park to prepare dozens of homeless campers for their move, after the landowner decided to make improvements on the property.

IHS said it had 40 spaces available for homeless men and no spaces available for women as of last week.

But instead of seeking shelter at IHS or other homeless facilities, most campers remain on the streets.

Cal Theriault spent about four months at IHS before he moved to the sidewalk on Beretania and Aala Streets last month.

"I was happy to leave because they had a big bug infestation. I used to get bit a lot. I thought it was mosquito bites biting me. When I opened up my blanket, I saw these little creatures," Theriault said.

The bedbug bites forced Theriault to seek medical attention.

"The irritation got so bad, that I went to the hospital for relief just to make sure it was just bedbugs. I thought it might have been scabies or something. It was more convenient for me to sleep in the tent rather than go through the anguish of having uncomfortable sleep," Theriault said.

But IHS said it follows strict protocols to avoid infestations, including bag checks when new residents check-in.

"So if there are some items that are infested, we basically ask people not to bring them in. And if we find any bedbugs on any upholstered kind of furniture, we dump those," said Connie Mitchell, IHS executive director.

Mitchell said the facility is fumigated once a week with non-toxic, unscented substances.

And mats are disinfected daily.

But if there is an infestation, "We basically strip all the bedding, we make everyone wash in hot, hot water so that we can kill all the bedbugs," Mitchell said.

IHS believes most homeless people avoid the shelters not because of bedbugs, but because of the strict rules in place for residents.

"And unfortunately, it is an abnormal living situation because it's congregate living. But it is meant to really promote and protect the health and welfare of everyone that's here," Mitchell said.

IHS says it currently does NOT have a bedbug infestation although it is an on-going battle.

Bedbugs are found at the facility fairly frequently -- about once a month, Mitchell said.