AUGUSTA — Charles Manning, the 74-year-old man who dumped a cup of live bedbugs inside Augusta’s city hall last month, said he did it because officials weren’t addressing his complaints about substandard housing adequately.

Manning said Tuesday he doesn’t regret his actions on June 2.

“I pulled out the cup and said, ‘Here, help yourself,'” he said during an interview at a local Dunkin’ Donuts. “I reached in my bag and pulled out the cup and I opened it up and put it on the counter, just to let (the code enforcement officer) know this is what I had to put up with for four, six months.”

Manning said he now realizes he dumped the 100 or so bedbugs in the wrong city department — mistakenly targeting the General Assistance office instead of code enforcement at Augusta City Center.

The city quickly closed the building for the rest of the day and called in a pest-control company to spray it with chemicals. It reopened the following Monday.

Manning later was charged with assault and obstruction of government administration, class D crimes punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Live bedbugs sealed in a ventilated plastic case like these are used to train bedbug-sniffing dogs on July 29, 2016, at Merrills Detector Dog Services in Readfield. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

A Massachusetts native, Manning has lived in various parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest and Texas; and he has worked as a bus driver, among other occupations.

He moved to Maine about 10 years ago to be near his sister, who was living here. He was living in the Lewiston-Auburn area until last year, when he says he was kicked out of an apartment for complaining about its poor condition. He then moved to Augusta.

While Manning’s situation — and his reaction to it — is extreme, his predicament illustrates two problems city officials have been working to address in recent years: a lack of affordable housing and bedbug infestations in some boarding homes and apartments.

Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the quasi-municipal Augusta Housing Authority, noted that more than 500 units in the city either were lost or are at imminent risk of being lost because of fire or safety code issues since 2013.

Amanda Bartlett

People who receive approval for Section 8 subsidized housing have a three-year wait to get into that housing.

“If you’re in a situation where you’re homeless in this community, looking for a place to live and low-income, there’s nothing immediately available,” she said.

Then there are the bedbugs.

“The bedbug issue is complicated,” she said. “At the Augusta Housing Authority, we work hard with landlords to make sure they comply with federal law. A lot of landlords are frustrated because they’re trying to do the right thing.”

Tenants also have to do their part, washing all clothing, cleaning the entire apartment and encasing mattresses, she said.

“A lot of our clients have some disabilities that make it more difficult for them to comply with those types of pest control protocols,” Bartlett said.

She said landlords have to work closely with tenants to try to get them through the process.

“We’ve seen both sides: landlords not doing what they’re supposed to do and tenants not doing what they’re supposed to do,” she said.

Bartlett, who took over the Augusta Housing Authority in late 2013, has worked to have her organization take a more aggressive role in dealing with what she described at the time as “a near-crisis situation” because of the lack of affordable housing.

In addition, bedbugs have been a persistent problem in some buildings, and they had been found in the city’s General Assistance office previously. The bugs are brown, flat and about a quarter-inch long, with a soft, rounded look. After a blood meal, they are dark red and larger. They feed on human blood but are not believed to carry disease.

To step up enforcement, the City Council passed an ordinance last year that allows city officials to require landlords to bring in pest management professionals to exterminate bedbugs when an infestation is discovered. It also requires tenants to notify their landlords if they know or suspect there is an infestation of the blood-sucking bugs in their rental unit and prohibits them from trying to treat the infestation themselves.

NO PLACE TO GO

Manning, who said he receives about $900 a month in Social Security payments, described one apartment on Court Street that was so infested with bedbugs that he avoided sleeping at night, when the pests were most likely to crawl over his bed. He said he was reluctant to inform his landlord of the bugs, fearful that a complaint could lead to his being evicted.

But at the end of May, just before Manning moved into a new room on Water Street, he filed several complaints with the city’s code enforcement staff.

Robert Overton, one of the city’s code enforcement officers, said Manning came to City Center to say that his room had a bedbug infestation, and Overton asked whether Manning had notified his landlord.

“We have to give the landlord the opportunity to correct the problem,” Overton said Wednesday at City Center. Manning said he had told a fellow tenant but not the landlord, fearing he might be evicted.

Charles Manning, 74, talks about how many bedbugs were in a container he dumped at Augusta City Center while retelling the story during an interview Tuesday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

When Manning returned a week later, Overton said, he said he had moved, but wanted to be sure his old residence would be treated. He was carrying the cup of bedbugs at the time — which he collected from the Court Street apartment and put in a disposable cup — saying it was his proof of the infestation.

“I don’t blame him for being upset,” Overton said.

Overton called the landlord, Gerry Fleury, who told him that Waltham Pest Control was at the building and was treating it at that moment.

Overton then asked Manning if he could dispose of the cup of bedbugs he was carrying.

“I asked if I could have them to dispose of them,” Overton said, but Manning refused. Overton then followed Manning out to make sure he took the bedbugs with him.

Overton also said he contacted the manager of Manning’s new residence to say Manning had moved from a place that had bedbugs.

Manning then returned several hours later, calling Overton “a snitch.”

“He told me he had been kicked out and that he was homeless,” Overton said, and Overton directed him to the General Assistance office for aid.

There, Manning learned he didn’t qualify for aid because he had another source of income.

Overton said he saw Manning’s hand go under the glass partition and throw the bedbugs on the counter, several of which hit the worker there.

“I asked them, ‘What am I supposed to do now that you got me kicked out?'” Manning said.

Overton then escorted Manning from the building, and in late June, police charged Manning with the two misdemeanors. He’s due in court on Aug. 7.

“Frankly, the General Assistance office has nothing to do with bedbugs,” the city’s development director, Matt Nazar, said in June. “It’s an extraordinary bit of misdirected anger.”

MORE RESOURCES

Manning recently stayed in the Super 8 motel in Augusta for about two weeks, but said he can’t afford to keep staying there and is now homeless.

Bartlett said the Augusta Housing Authority did strategic planning a few years ago and is implementing ways to increase the housing supply.

“We’re working hard to develop new housing like we did at the former Hodgkins Middle School,” she said.

The housing authority is about to announce successful applications from landlords who sought money through a Great Neighborhoods program to rehabilitate existing housing.

While 17 applications were received, Bartlett said the $500,000 available will stretch to only two or three buildings because of the scope of the work needed.

“We’re also creating a housing resource room, which is almost ready to open,” she said. “We’ll have someone here to help search for housing.”

That would include helping with internet searches and making phone calls.

“At one point 67 percent of folks we were giving a voucher to weren’t able to find housing,” Bartlett said, causing officials to wonder, “Is it an inventory issue, or can we do more to help?”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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