Budget takes bite out of Toronto’s bed bug battle

Sam Butler’s life has never been the same since her battle with bed bugs.

Whenever she travels, she takes a soft duffle bag, which she never leaves on the floor, only in the hotel bathtub. Her first stop before going home is to hit the laundromat.

“I run everything for 45 minutes on high just to make sure that nothing came with me,” she said.

Butler, 24, recently experienced what it was like living with bed bugs while residing in an apartment building in Toronto. It took her two months to get rid of the bugs. She said the infestation made it hard for her to feel comfortable in her own home.

Where did the money go?
(Statistics provided by Tracy Leach and represent the time period of May 1 to December 31, 2011.)1,248:The number of bed bug complaints TPH received.

4,146:The number of residential units that were inspected by TPH.

978: The number of units infested by bed bugs.

175: The number of “very extreme” cases of bedbugs that TPH eradicated.

66: The number of awareness and education presentations TPH made to the community.

2000: The number of people that TPH reached during these presentations.

In the future it is going to be hard for people such as Butler to find the help they need to get rid of bed bug infestations.

In April 2011, Toronto Public Health (TPH) received $1.2 million from the government of Ontario’s Bed Bug Support Fund. The one-time funding program ends on March 31, 2012.

According to Tracy Leach, manager of the bed bug team for TPH, the funding allowed the city to create a team of six public health inspectors, three public health nurses and one manager who responded to the needs of those battling infestations; the team also ran an education campaign.

“The demand is not decreasing and we have seen such huge success with our most vulnerable clients. The one question I keep asking is, what will we tell a vulnerable client that calls on April 1? And the answer is: ‘Sorry the program ended yesterday,’” Leach said.

Toronto City Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31), has seen some of the city’s worst infestations in apartment complexes of her Beaches East-York constituency. She said that what started out as a small problem, has escalated dramatically in the last five years.

“Bed bugs are in every kind of building – in all different income neighbourhoods. They’re in hotels, they are in our public spaces. What we need is ongoing funding to be able to approach this in a very fundamental way,” she said.

Recently, TBH and city council requested ongoing funding from the province to continue the program, Leach said. The province has not responded, only clouding the future of the bed bug team.

“We don’t have the funds for this, and why should it fall on the city only?” Davis said. “It is a public health matter and should be funded just like every other public health program that we have.”