Bed bugs biting their way into the nightmares of shelter residents |

Bed bugs biting their way into the nightmares of shelter residents

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal A Focus House resident reads his bible early Wednesday morning outside the South Carson City shelter. Residents have been sleeping outside for about a month after the shelter became infested with bed bugs.

They bite.

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) can force people out of homes, condemn buildings, multiply faster than cockroaches – and in the case of a group of men trying to get their lives back in order – cost them everything they’ve worked hard to regain.

The Focus House, a shelter based in South Carson City for men transitioning from homelessness to being back on their feet, has been infested with bed bugs since June.

The problem, which started in one room, through a single resident – spread through the 2,500-square-foot shelter forcing residents pick up yet again – and, sleep outdoors.

In spite of the onset cold fall nights, many of the men have not moved back into Carson City’s only men’s shelter.

“We come from sleeping outdoors in the streets to sleeping outdoors at the shelter,” said one resident who refused to give his real name.

With a predicted early and wet winter and snow showing up in the Sierra Nevada’s 10-day forecast, the time is now for Focus House officials to get rid of the bugs – once and for all, a shelter resident said.

“I’ll tell you what should happen, this building should be condemned,” said another resident, speaking on a condition of anonymity.

Monte Fast, executive director, of Carson-based Friends in Service Helping (FISH) – the agency that operates the Focus House – agreed, that the time has come for the bed bugs to no longer bite; noting that FISH has tried to eradicate the problem since it was first reported.

He said the perception from a handful of the residents that the nonprofit can do more, is not accurate.

“There’s a couple of guys down there who are laboring under the impression if we can’t give them the lodging there under the conditions they demand that we have to rent them places and put them up around town, Fast said. “That just isn’t what FISH does.”

Fast said “numerous measures” have been taken to rid the halfway house of the infestation over the last three months – including hiring an exterminator.

“We called Catseye (Pest Control) right away and they started the extermination process,” Fast said. “It turned the bugs down a little bit, but didn’t eliminate them. Catseye said they couldn’t do it in one fell swoop – so they’ve been coming back.”

Catseye branch manager Scott Conner corroborated Fast’s story, noting there’s nothing about the problem that should condemn the building as some residents have suggested.

“Northern Nevada has a (bed bug) epidemic,” Conner said. “The home continues to be treated by specialists in a professional manner. One of the guys staying there brought them in and didn’t let anybody know and it just spread.

“We’ve gotten it under control.”

Fast said the bed bug host came to the shelter from Sacramento, and the bed bug epidemic started within a matter of days.

“He wasn’t on the level with us,” Fast said. “But we’ve done what we can. Last weekend, we went down and took out all the furniture, disassembled it and disinfected it.

“The only thing we can do now is get rid of all the mattresses. There are 25 of them and I don’t have it in the budget to get all new ones. If anyone wants to help the homeless and donate a mattress – we would welcome the offer.”

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at or 881-1219.

What’s a bed bug?

• Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown, flattened, oval and wingless, with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. A common misconception is that they are not visible to the naked eye.

• Adults grow to four to five millimeters, or one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch, in length and do not move quickly enough to escape the notice of an attentive observer. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and continue to become more brown and molt as they reach maturity. When it comes to size, they are often compared to lentils or apple seeds.

• Bedbugs are generally active only at dawn, with a peak attack period about an hour before dawn, though given the opportunity, they may attempt to feed at other times of day.

• Attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide, the bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. • After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place.

• The bites cannot usually be felt until some minutes or hours later, as a dermatological reaction to the injected agents.

• Although bedbugs can live for a year or as much as 18 months without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to 10 days.

• While bedbugs have been known to harbor pathogens in their bodies, including plague and hepatitis B, they have not been linked to the transmission of any disease and are not regarded as a medical threat. Some individuals, however, can get skin infections and scars from scratching bites.

• Bed bugs have a difficult time surviving cool temperatures.

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