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By Vanessa Milne

“We have bedbugs in (apartment) 8C. This whole floor has bedbugs,” says the girl as we wait for the elevator together at Neill-Wycik. “Be careful.”

I had bedbugs too when I lived here, I told her. Did she have a few bites on her arm? Hardly, she said, shrugging off her coat to show me. At least 200 tiny red marks covered her shoulders, the tops of her arms, and her chest.

Imagine what someone would look like if they’d fallen asleep in mosquitoes, which is not that different from sleeping with bedbugs. “8C’s a plague,” says Fabrice Merinda, a third-year International Business student at Centennial College who lived there over the summer before switching across the hall to 8F.

We have a uniquely Wycik conversation about the bugs, knowledge we both don’t want. When I lived in 8D two years ago, my roommate got bedbugs, which crawled across the hall from 8C’s old mattresses, waiting to be picked up. I remember sleeping on the couch, which wasn’t infected; sleeping with the lights on, since they only bite in the dark; packing and unpacking endlessly for constant fumigations.

My friends later told me that they never came over out of fear, and my best friend said she hesitated to let me sit on her couch. I remember what a University of Toronto report on bedbugs calls the “psychological trauma,” the intense disgust at the thought that there might be bugs ready to bite me at night, the “ick factor” of it all.

Six months into our lease, my roommate made noises about not paying rent, and a metal bed appeared. The problem stopped, and 8D no longer had bedbugs, although that metal bed is now gone, an old wooden one in its place.

Neill-Wycik is not the ideal place to live. It’s on Gerrard St. E., two doors down from Hooker Harveys. It houses post-secondary students almost exclusively, most from Ryerson. The building is a co-op, which means that the tenants technically own it by paying rent. The rooms have old furniture and peeling paint; every once in a while they get mice.

In return, they have extremely low rent and eight-month leases. Unfinished wooden beds, kept because they’re trying to keep the costs down, are the perfect place for bedbugs to thrive. That, and the fact that Toronto has been dealing with a bedbug resurgence since 2001, and Wycik’s alternate use as a hostel in the summer, have led to outbreaks centred around the eighth floor since 2000.

Think you have bed bugs?
Place double-sided tape along your bed and around the legs (carpet tape works best)Place your bed legs in glass jars, or put Vaseline on them

Vacuum every day, using the nozzle to clean corners, mattress seams and crevices of the bed

Launder your clothes as often as possible

Caulk, putty, or varnish cracks in your bed frame, flooring and moulding (bedbugs can live here)

Steam your mattress, carpet, and baseboards to kill eggs

Spray with pesticide. Tempo, Prelude, and Ficam are all good choices (don’t try this at home, kids.)

Source: Toronto Health

During the summer, 8C’s bedbugs moved to adjacent 8F. Ashley Jagt, a hospitality and tourism student at Ryerson, has lived there for two years. Their unit had bedbugs last year, which was fixed when they got metal beds.

When they came back in September, the wooden beds were back. They requested new ones, did some research, and vacuumed? – one of the simplest ways to solve the problem. The whole unit is remarkably clean.

That’s one of the reasons the girls chose to room together, but Wycik’s vacuums are not powerful enough. Wycik finally gave the rooms with bedbugs, the ones closest to 8C, metal beds in September. The old beds sat waiting for pickup in the common area, a few feet of carpet away from the uninfected rooms.

After that, the whole unit had them. They’ve had at least five fumigations, all of which worked for around a week each time. Having the unit sprayed means packing everything into garbage bags, laundering all clothing, and evacuating for a few hours.

A handwritten sign is posted near the door, after one girl saw the fumigators not bother to open the drawers under her bed. It reads: “Please spray everything! We have found bugs everywhere. Please do not be like a previous sprayer and finish the job in 10 minutes. We are sick and tired of being eaten alive every time we go to sleep.”

Since the bites so closely resemble mosquito bites, the only way to prove you have bedbugs is to trap them, which 8F has done with double-sided tape. One bug is held by a piece of tape against the wall of the common room. It has a small rusty red head, legs – one broken by the tape, and an abdomen swollen with blood. It’s a few weeks old, and is leaking down the wall.

The whole thing is about the size of a drop of blood. They are “flat as paper,” according to a City of Toronto report. The younger bugs are a light translucent yellow and smaller, with wings. Jagt says she often mistakes them for baby spiders. “I was reading in bed once and a baby one scurried across my chest,” she explains, drawing a line across her sweater with a manicured nail, remarkably calm.

She had a fairly mild reaction, with around 10 bites appearing on her legs by noon, and disappearing by nightfall.

Neill-Wycik’s manager, Peter Allan, says, “I’d be happier to get rid of them than they would. We’re doing out best, but we had some problems with the bed supplier, we’ve had some problems fumigating. This is an issue throughout Toronto. We’ve dealt with it.” He explains that the metal beds are expensive and they’re being phased in.

This would be more convincing if The Eyeopener hadn’t run a story announcing Neill-Wycik was buying 100 metal beds and finally fixing their bedbug problem – in January 2001. However, last week 8F finally got their beds – not the metal ones, which are still on order, but metal cots and new mattresses.

There are rumours 8C no longer has tenants, and they did not answer their door for a week. Allan wouldn’t discuss it. There still aren’t metal beds available upon request. Jagt hopes they have fixed the problem. As a precaution, the girls have wrapped their beds in plastic sheets and garbage bags, which she describes as “not at all comfortable.”

She’s tired of being fumigated, tired of dealing with management, and tired of not sleeping. She still worries about having people over, and about going home for the weekends, since they can travel in luggage.

She panicked after finding a ladybug in her washroom at home. Mostly, she’s just sick of living on the lookout.

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