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BEDBUGS - Phoenix battles bedbugs in public housing


by Sadie Jo Smokey 
The Arizona Republic

A shredded blue mattress and box spring leaning against a large trash container outside Pine Towers indicates that residents of the east Phoenix multifamily community are battling an infestation of blood-sucking insects.

Bedbugs are flat, reddish brown and smaller than an apple seed. They hide in mattresses, furniture and walls. They feed on sleeping humans at night.

Letters from city staff to Maricopa County Environmental Services indicate that in the past year, the city has battled recurrent bedbug infestations at Pine Towers, 2936 N. 36th St., as the pests spread from one apartment to another. Residents of the 133 public housing units cannot "refuse treatment due to the nature of the problem," city documents show.

Leona Godfrey, a 16-year Pine Towers resident, said she'd wake up with little red bites on her arms. Not an ant bite. Not a mosquito bite. Bedbugs.

"I had an infestation on the arm of my sofa," Godfrey said. "I don't know where they came from. We've never had a problem before."

Godfrey, who sometimes sleeps on her sofa, said preparing her home for the pest treatment was "really miserable," but the psychological effect of having the pest was worse.

"That's the real kicker, what it does to you," Godfrey said. "You mention bedbugs and people jump back. They don't want to be around you. I didn't want to sleep here. I didn't want to be here. I put everything in plastic bags on the patio."

The pest does not discriminate. Countywide, since Jan. 1, approximately 160 bedbug complaints were reported to the county's environmental services agency in apartment complexes, private residences, hotels, motels, nursing homes and assisted-living communities.

Of the city's 2,371 public housing apartments and homes, 28 cases of bedbugs were reported in the past year, said Brian Suggs, of the Phoenix Housing Department.

In January, the Arizona Multihousing Association, hosted a seminar on bedbugs. At a community meeting, Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot, who is president of the association, told residents the pest has only recently reappeared in the state.

Simplot said city departments and responsible landlords are addressing the problem by responding to complaints and providing pamphlets about the insects in English and Spanish. City leaders are considering an ordinance regarding the disposal of bedbug-infested mattresses, furniture and bedding.

"If we're not proactive, bedbugs are going to be a bigger problem," Simplot said. "It's not just college kids that get furniture from the alley."

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