Shelter tries to take bite out of bedbugs - East Valley Tribune: News

Shelter tries to take bite out of bedbugs

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Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010 12:05 pm | Updated: 3:53 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Bedbugs are enough of a problem at Mesa’s East Valley Men’s Center that shelter staff are seeking donations to replace wooden beds, shelves and walls to eradicate the pesky biters.

The shelter houses and feeds 84 men a day who can stay for free up to 120 days. Despite strict hygiene rules of daily showers and thoroughly washing and drying all belongings, weekly deep cleanings, monthly exterminations and caulking holes and cracks, the bug problem has persisted for at least the past six months, said Torrie Taj, executive vice president of marketing and resource development for A New Leaf, the non-profit organization that runs the shelter.

“It’s a common problem in shelters,” Taj said.

In an e-mail sent to the Tribune, Mesa city officials and A New Leaf official, shelter residents said the problem had been repeatedly brought to the attention of shelter staff and case managers but nothing had been done.

However, Juergen Lehmann, a shelter resident for three months, said although he has gotten bit once or twice, bed bugs are a common problem in high-traffic areas with the homeless.

“They keep it down so it’s not a nuisance,” said Lehmann, 41, who credits the shelter with helping him get back on his feet after the death of his mother, a stolen wallet and alcohol and substance abuse problems. “The staff is unbelievable. This place is here to better your life, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

When someone complains of bug bites, that person’s sleeping quarters is stripped, sprayed and cleaned, and clothes and linens are put in a commercial dryer for 30 minutes, said Connie Hallett, the shelter’s program manager.

“Heat kills the bugs, but the bugs can stay alive without food for up to a year and hide in the wood,” Hallett said. “Cleanliness and hygiene are big here. It’s an ongoing thing.”

Shelter staff believe the only way to completely take care of the problem is to get rid of the wood throughout the shelter, which has lots of cracks and crannies for bugs to live in and hide. Individual bays, which feature a single bed and shelving, were built 12 years ago in the shelter, which once served a bingo hall.

East Valley Institute of Technology students built the wooden bays and shelves for the shelter, and the wooden beds were built by churches or donated, Taj said.

To fix the problem, Taj estimates the shelter will have to spend at least $65,000 to pay for new hospital-sterile mattresses, metal beds and the labor to put them in. The wooden bays will have to be torn down and metal walls and shelves will have to be built in its place. The shelter also wants to cover the concrete floors with lithium flooring, Taj said. Lithium flooring provides a seal that is stronger surface than conventional floors sealed with on epoxies, urethanes and acrylics.

The center is in the process of getting bids for the work, and is seeking donations and applying for grants to help pay for the overhaul, Taj said.

To make sure the plan will work, shelter officials are waiting for information from the Department of Health Services.

“We want to make sure we solve it and not just put a Band-aid on it,” said A New Leaf CEO Michael Hughes. “It’s frustrating. We have to solve the problem.”

How to help:

East Valley Men’s Center shelter in Mesa is always in need of volunteers, money and new linens, hygiene items and clothes.

For more information, visit

If you go

What: Groundbreaking

When: 10 a.m. Monday

Where: East Valley Men’s Center, 2345 N. Country Club Drive, Mesa

Details: At least two years in the planning stages, the shelter will begin construction on a new 6,400-square-foot multipurpose kitchen, dining hall and meeting room, and a 3,154-square-foot basic needs donation storage center. Both will be built on land in back of the shelter at a cost of nearly $1.3 million. The money is coming from private donations and Mesa. 

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