WATERVILLE — Marieda Call and her neighbors are scared to death about becoming infested by bedbugs.
That’s because two apartment dwellers in their complex at 26 Louise Ave. have the parasitic insects in their units.
The Waterville Housing Authority, which oversees the 27-unit complex, is addressing the problem and following protocol outlined in state statute regarding bedbugs, according to the authority’s executive director, Diane Townsend.
But Call and others feel not enough is being done to get rid of the bedbugs. Call said the bedbug issue was first reported at the end of August.
She and about 19 other tenants signed a petition and presented it to the housing authority, requesting that every apartment and the common areas including laundry rooms, community kitchen, hallways and kitchen be treated for bedbugs as soon as possible.
“When it’s affecting other tenants in the building — physically, emotionally and mentally — something needs to be done,” Call, 65, said Monday.
Townsend said Monday that the housing authority visited the affected apartments within 24 hours of being alerted, confirmed a small bedbug problem and hired a cleaning company that is preparing the two apartments for treatment by a pest control company. Officials also have checked apartments adjacent to the affected ones and is offering to check other tenants’ units, she said.
The local housing authority is a nonprofit, subsidized housing agency that receives funding from the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development. It hired the cleaning company, Prep Clean, of Westbrook, to speak to tenants about how to help prevent bedbugs.
“From what we’ve seen, 99 percent of the building has no issue,” Townsend said. “It is difficult. They’re (tenants) scared. We’re doing everything we can to alleviate the problem.”
Call said one of the affected units is next door to hers and bedbugs can go under walls and through cracks. She said some tenants are timid about asking for their units to be checked.
“People are talking about moving because they just don’t want to get infected and I don’t blame them,” Call said.
It’s critical that people vacuum two or three times a week, de-clutter their homes and launder their clothes properly, according to Bob Lister, owner of Prep Clean.
“It’s absolutely amazing the homes I’ve gone into that don’t have vacuum cleaners,” Lister said.
Bedbugs do not discriminate and they do not occur just in homes that are dirty, he said. People can pick them up at movie theaters, by sitting in waiting rooms at doctors’ offices and other places, he said. Bedbugs literally live off human beings — we are their food, he said.
People who hoard are at a greater risk of not being able to get rid of bedbugs because they have more places to hide, he said.
Both he and Townsend said that they can educate people about keeping their units clean and de-cluttered, but there is a point at which they cannot force them to vacuum and throw things away.
Treatment of bedbugs takes time, she said.
“There is a certain amount of time involved with following a good process and procedure,” she said. “Just because they (other tenants) don’t see anything (treatment) doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. We are following the process we established as fast as we could, given availability of people to do things. It takes time to move. We certainly reacted very quickly.”
Lister said his business uses only “green” methods for cleaning, including steaming, he said. He said an important part of his business is not just cleaning but also educating people about how to clean and protect their homes. The company helps people for whom preparing a home for pest extermination is difficult because they have physical or mental limitations. Preparation includes moving items, taking items out of drawers and removing items from walls. Prep Clean also offers to monitor homes after the exterminator treats them, Lister said.
A call Monday to Waltham Services, the pest control company in Scarborough that was hired by the housing authority to address the bedbug issue, was not immediately returned Monday.
The local housing authority has about 250 apartments in the city and some are in large buildings and some, in smaller ones, according to Townsend. In the last 1 1/2 to two years, less than 10 bedbug problems have occurred in those units, she said.
“We’ve been very successful,” she said. “If you follow a plan and you have tenant compliance, it is entirely possible to eliminate them.”
But Lucretia Smith, 63, who has lived in the Louise Avenue complex for 18 years, is leery.
“I have an 86-year-old mother who lives in the building and she shares a wall with one of the people who has bedbugs,” Smith said. “She’s beside herself.”
Smith said someone checked her mother’s apartment for bedbugs Thursday and no bedbugs were found, but she thinks all the other units should be checked as well.
Smith said the situation is unnerving.
“It’s double-duty for me because my mother is here also. It’s bothering her stomach and she’s stressed over it.”
Smith said the complex is otherwise a wonderful place.
“It’s like our family,” she said. “We’re close. It’s a little community.”
Amy Calder — 861-9247