Ninety-one-year-old Michael Brauer is fed up with bed bugs feeding on him in his home.
He is among some Yukon Housing Corporation tenants who are sick of feeling physically and mentally stressed, isolated and overwhelmed by ongoing issues at 600 College Drive. Those residents who are not dealing directly with bed bugs in their units are horrified to see what their neighbours are going through.
The News attended a meeting with a group of tenants and a few of their family members on the evening of Dec. 23 in a basement common room that some of the residents had decorated for the holidays.
“Supporting Yukoners through death and grief” read a stack of pamphlets by Hospice Yukon near the entrance to the room.
Tenants told the News that a person had died in the seniors’ complex in November. They said the death was discovered several days after residents reported an increasingly overwhelming smell in the hallways.
One tenant anonymously told the News that the smell became noticable and worsened to the point they started wearing a mask in the hallway, calling the event “horrific.”
The Yukon Coroner’s Service confirmed that a death had been reported by the building manager on Nov. 21. While the coroner’s investigation is ongoing, the death is not considered suspicious.
Officials from the Yukon Housing Corporation did not comment on the death out of respect for the privacy of the tenants and their families.
Some tenants are upset because they feel their concerns aren’t taken seriously, nor dealt with swiftly, due to their age.
Brauer said he’s lived at 600 College Drive since 2007, and is one of the original tenants of the building. His story started in East Germany, followed by what he describes as an “adventurous escape” to the West. In 1953, he immigrated to Canada as a farm hand, later learning English and about diesel mechanics. He was a photographer and taught technical photography. In 1991, he moved to Whitehorse for work as a picture framer until his retirement.
On Dec. 19, 2018, Brauer was appointed to a three-year term on the Whitehorse Housing Advisory Board.
He said he is “relatively healthy” and “reasonably agile”; however, he has been struggling with bed bugs since September.
Brauer said he reacts negatively to bed bug bites. He showed the News photos of his reactions. He went to the hospital when he found the first bite on the back of his neck, after spending days in the bush, thinking it was a tick bite. He was told it was not a tick bite, but doctors did not confirm a bed bug bite.
Then he found another bite.
“I started looking around and I actually found a bed bug: my first prisoner,” he said.
And then he kept locating one bed bug after another.
“I’m trying to do what I can protect myself,” he said.
Tenants at the meeting noted the money, time and energy spent trying to eradicate and prevent the spread of bed bugs. Some said they have slept with the lights on to limit bug activity at night.
Brauer provided the News with a series of tenant notices that mark a paper trail of the building management’s recent efforts to step up.
According to the documents, his unit was inspected by Klondike Pest Control for bed bugs on Dec. 9. A week later, his unit was treated by the pest control company.
An undated notice indicates Yukon Housing Corporation staff will be installing double-sided tape on the threshold at entry doors. The notice states the measure is intended to prevent the spread of bed bugs in the building.
The latest notice is about work being done to seal around drainage lines located under the bathroom sink.
As of Dec. 27, Brauer said by email that he has not found a bed bug in four days.
“Life is worth living again,” he said.
“The psychological agony of this whole issue is very real and very distressing. Plus, the fear of contamination when visiting or having visitors.”
Brauer is not the only one receiving these types of notices and dealing with the repercussions of a building impacted by bed bugs.
Some tenants reported finding bed bugs after having their units treated multiple times. They call it a Band-Aid approach by the Yukon Housing Corporation.
The tenants present at the meeting said they want more to be done. They feel like they are not being listened to. Their sense of community is slipping away as their loved ones stay away and the tenants avoid using common areas for fear of an infestation.
“It’s really miserable,” said tenant Ginny Prins.
“Life changes because of bed bugs.”
In October, the News reported on swift measures taken to deal with potential bed bugs in the Yukon legislative building. At the time, the Yukon NDP called on the Yukon government to match those efforts by taking quicker action on bed bugs in Yukon Housing Corporation buildings.
In a Dec. 29 statement, Lester Balsillie, acting director of capital development and maintenance, primarily reiterated what the News previously reported. Balsillie said the Yukon Housing Corporation has established procedures for preventing and treating bed bugs.
“Yukon Housing Corporation takes bed bugs seriously as we understand it is a stressful situation for our tenants,” Balsillie said.
Nine units in the building are currently affected by bed bugs, according to the statement.
“The drainage lines underneath bathroom sinks are being sealed as it has been identified as a possible source of bed bug transfer between units,” Balsillie said.
“All bed bug transfer points are sealed as they are identified.”
The housing corporation is dealing with bed bug issues in four of its buildings, which is down from six in October.
Individual units are inspected on a case-by-case basis when notified of a concern by tenants. A pest control specialist inspects common areas monthly or more.
Multiple units on multiple floors reporting bed bugs in a building triggers a general bed bug concern.
“When this situation arises, a pest control contractor is engaged to inspect, provide consultation and treat, as required, all units and common areas,” Balsillie said.
In the statement, if a tenant finds and reports bed bugs in their unit, staff will work with them to provide treatment as soon as possible.
“If, for whatever reason, the tenant is unable to prepare the unit for treatment, [the corporation] works with them to explore options for support services. If no supports are available, [the corporation] can hire a contractor at the tenant’s cost,” reads the statement.
The statement indicates the corporation will pay for the cost of treatment, as well as two follow-up inspections.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org