I am frequently asked about pest control by various members of my community. In church, at restaurants while eating, even at weddings, I have been asked bug questions without hesitation. Often, I nod and smile and give answers as if we are talking about the weather. Because I earn a living as a pest management professional, it comes with the job title. No one wants to live with bugs so I am not surprised by the urgency behind the inquiries. Recently, I had an encounter that caught me off guard.
One evening after stopping to pick up a few items for dinner, I noticed a woman standing by my truck as I was leaving the grocery store. She seemed a little nervous as I approached her and my vehicle. As I slowed my step to better sum up the situation, she looked up and asked hurriedly, “Hello, are you Mrs. Holmes?” I nodded slowly, wondering what was next. The young woman began to tell me she had seen me around town and wanted to know what do about the bug bites on her children, whom she pointed to in the car next to my truck.
Putting my bags away, I turned my attention to the beautiful girls staring back at me. As I started examining her babies very obvious bites, the mom began to tell me her story. She had been displaced by Nashville’s May floods and had to move into temporary housing several times in the last few months. “I am practically homeless,” she blurted out in despair. “I am living in a shelter that is running over with bugs. My kids are being eaten alive.” As a mother of three, my heart went out to her immediately. This mom was homeless because of circumstances beyond her control and she was facing a situation that happens in the homeless community often: infested living quarters.
Pest control issues plague the homeless. Bedbugs are all the rage on the nightly news of late, but contact any advocate for the homeless and pest control issues are discussed often. How do you battle pests like roaches, rodents, lice, spiders and mosquitoes in crowded conditions with limited resources? Often the pest control budget is limited by a “What can we get for the cheapest price?” mindset. That line of thinking plus a lack of education on preventive measures equals trouble for all parties involved.
I took the young mom aside and gave her an impromptu pest control lesson right on the spot. I had a few pest identification books on hand and let her browse through them to see if she recognized any of the bugs that were traumatizing her living space. She pointed out several. As I continued looking at her daughter legs riddled with bumps, my mommy genes took over. I took her and her crew inside the store to buy some anti-itch cream, several plastic storage bins, and a plastic encasement cover for her mattress, as well as large Ziploc bags and retail line of the EcoSmart pesticide products that I use in my business every day.
She left armed with a plan, safe chemicals, and a peace of mind. I must say no one had ever camped out at my truck to try to get pest control problems solved before, but my conversation the next day with the shelter manager where she was living was typical. “We are under contract and we’re trying to deal with it,” she said defensively. I was not asking about a contract; I was asking management: were they being proactive by educating the residents about steps to keep pests at a minimum? Using a pest control company is one step in addressing pests in the homeless community. But engaging members of the homeless community is the key component to controlling the problems. Education on preventive measures must be part their everyday routine at shelters.
The young mom and I stayed in contact for several weeks while she continued to look for bug-free housing for her family. The mom did not want anything other than a safe place to lay her head without bugs until she could find a permanent place to live.
Last month, she called me to share the good news that she found an apartment near her workplace. I could not miss the joy in her voice and told her I would stop by to see her new place. I bought her the best housewarming present I could give her: a year of pest control service. Her smiling face told me I picked the perfect gift!
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Article first published as Not Just Bedbugs: Pests Plague the Homeless Community on Blogcritics.