Gabriel Smarch doesn’t trust his mattress, couch or floor.
Instead, the longtime resident of an apartment in Whitehorse’s McIntyre subdivision has been sleeping on the tall wooden table in his kitchen, surrounded by a circle of diatomaceous earth, in an attempt to avoid what he says is his building’s long-standing bedbug problem.
But around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 18, on what he thought was the relative safety of the table, he felt something crawling on him.
“I just about fell off last night when that fucking bug was on my neck,” Smarch told a reporter who visited his apartment on O’Brien Road, pointing to the now-dead bedbug he’d placed in the plastic lid of a disposable coffee cup.
“I need something done. This is not good.”
But with bedbugs notoriously difficult to eliminate, especially in multi-unit buildings, what actually can be done is another issue.
The News spoke to several other residents in Smarch’s building who confirmed bedbug infestations have been persisting for years and appear to be afflicting units to different degrees.
One resident, who didn’t want to be named, told the News that he saw a bedbug crawl out of his couch a few years ago and immediately tossed the couch over his balcony. He’s kept his clothes and other fabrics in tied-up plastic bags every since. Another resident reported seeing bedbugs in his unit every few months.
The residents, including Smarch, confirmed that Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) has paid for multiple pest control service treatments, but that the bedbugs keep returning despite their cleaning and preventative measures. Over the 15 years he’s lived in the building, Smarch said he’s thrown out all his furniture and clothing five or six times and is getting ready to toss his couch and mattress again. His clothing, contained in a hockey bag, appears to be unaffected for now.
KDFN spokesperson Chris Madden said the last bedbug complaint on record for Smarch’s building is October 2016, when a work order was issued. All complaints are logged, Madden said, whether someone makes the complaint in person or over the phone, and on top of paying for pest control treatments, the First Nation’s community services department provides citizens with plastic bags, mattress covers and extra cleaning services when it becomes aware of a bedbug situation.
In a later email, Madden said KDFN has spent more than $8,000 on pest control services in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, not including an additional $1,000 spent on training.
Smarch confirmed that his unit was treated for bedbugs in October 2016, but said that his recent complaints to members of KDFN’s health and community services departments, including ones he made as recently as this week, haven’t resulted in any action.
Klondike Pest Control’s Calvin Gillings, whose clients include KDFN, said ongoing bedbug infestations are an issue across Whitehorse in part because of how the buildings here are constructed.
“Here, it’s all timber frame, everything, so it makes it a little easier for them to move from one unit to another,” he said. He added that it’s “not unusual at all” for bedbugs to persist in one location for over a decade, and that long infestations can mainly be attributed to tenants not following preventative measures.
“It’s unfortunate because if you’ve got, say, an apartment that holds 30 people but, say, three people are uncooperative, those three people will cause that issue to repeat itself because they’re not doing what needs to be done to deal with the problem,” he said.
“I’ve done huge inspections on a building, like every single unit, and we end up finding, ‘Oh, the nest is over here,’ and we approach the person and they don’t even realize they have bedbugs. They were living in it and not even realizing because sometimes, you don’t react to the bites. So sometimes there are legitimate reasons why people neglect it, sometimes it’s just people hoarding.”
Smarch, though, in his almost bare apartment, said he doesn’t know what else he can do. With his limited income, leaving is’t really an option, but the idea of staying any longer is becoming intolerable, too.
“Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do after this,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org