Lawrence’s homeless shelter takes key steps to eradicate bedbug infestation, but more needed

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence Community Shelter interim director Charles Frager provides a tour in the women’s portion of the shelter Monday, March 4, 2019, and offers a look at some of the new metal-frame beds that have been added after a bedbug infestation.

When staff at the Lawrence Community Shelter disassembled the wood-frame beds that more than 100 homeless people slept in nightly, they found a bedbug nest in nearly every one, shelter leaders say.

Interim Director Charles Frager said that for those who had no other choice but to sleep there, the shelter wasn’t providing them a good place to live. But he said that’s since changed. The shelter recently replaced the wood-frame beds with metal ones specifically designed to provide no space for bedbugs to nest, and Frager said the shelter has also increased treatments to eliminate the bugs.

Bedbugs feed on human blood, and Frager said the shelter went from getting dozens of reports of bedbugs per week to having one report since the new beds were put in place March 1, and no bugs have been found in traps. Though more improvements are still needed to eradicate the bedbugs, he said that so far it’s been a monumental success.

“We have people every day thanking us for doing these big projects that are really moving the needle as far as quality of life here,” Frager said.

Frager previously told the Journal-World that there had been a chronic bedbug infestation at the shelter since at least the summer of 2017. Getting rid of the wood-frame beds was key, because they essentially created a perfect environment for the pests. The beds had built-in drawers underneath them, and Frager said there was an enclosed area between the drawer and the housing that provided a nesting place that treatments weren’t reaching.

photo by: Nick Krug

This file photo from Jan. 17, 2018, shows beds in the men’s sleeping dorm at the Lawrence Community Shelter.

The 126 new metal-frame beds cost $60,000 and were delivered last month. Frager said the beds were paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Order of Malta, a $25,000 private donation and $10,000 from the shelter’s budget. Frager said that in addition to the regularly scheduled treatments the shelter previously had in place, the shelter is now treating an area within hours if bedbugs are reported. The shelter also continues to use four heat boxes that heat belongings up to 150 degrees for 15 minutes, killing bedbugs and other insects.

Frager said that getting the new beds in place and increasing rapid response spot treatments was phase one of the shelter’s attack on the bugs. He said phase two would involve fully treating the entirety of the dorms, including pulling up baseboards and replacing drywall if there was evidence of an infestation. Ultimately, he said to fully eliminate the bedbugs, which repeatedly get reintroduced, the shelter needs a heat room.

The heat room would treat all materials before anyone entered the building. He said those staying at the shelter would be given something to wear, and then the entirety of their possessions, including the clothes they were wearing, would be treated. He estimated that it would cost about $30,000 to add such a room to the shelter, and potentially less if the shelter received donated materials and labor.

But there are no immediate plans to add such a room. As the Journal-World has reported, the shelter has a substantial budget shortfall and the city recently ordered an outside review of the shelter’s financials as part of creating a long-term plan for the facility.

Frager said that while there isn’t currently funding for a heat room, the goal is to have a heat room added sometime next year, or as soon as funding is available. He said the steps taken thus far in dealing with the bedbug infestation were just the beginning.

“It’s by far the biggest infrastructure step, but it’s a continued battle really,” Frager said. “It’s not something that any one thing will fix. We can reduce the environment that pests have to nest and to be comfortable, but all it takes is one.”

Related stories

Feb. 7, 2019 — City and county agree to fund outside review of homeless shelter’s operations and finances

Jan. 7, 2019 — Chronic bedbug infestation afflicts Lawrence’s homeless shelter

Dec. 12, 2018 — Lawrence homeless shelter ‘on the ropes’ financially; city and county to discuss increasing funding


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