By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Bedbugs beware, Hamiltonis preparing for an onslaught against the pests that some people are calling a crisis in waiting.
The Board of Health agreed at its March 17 meeting to create a bedbug strategy that is scheduled to be presented to politicians in about a year. In the meantime, councillors agreed to spend $350,000 to launch an education program and provide needed assistance to vulnerable people afflicted with the nasty pests. The money will be found within the city’s existing operating budget, said staff.
“It really is an epidemic in some parts of the city,” said Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins.
City staff has seen a disturbing rise in complaints about bed bugs from between 2006 to 2011 with a peak of 660 calls in one year. In 2012 the city received 605 calls.
CityHousing Hamilton officials have also seen an explosion of complaints about the pests, which seem to impact the most vulnerable members of society, but are known to impact households of all levels of income and parts of the city.
Mountain councillor Tom Jackson told his colleagues of one elderly person on the mountain who discovered bedbugs in her home. She spent thousands of dollars in cleaning, but the social effects from her friends remain, he said.
“The whole stigma is a whole issue that can’t be talked about enough,” said Jackson.
He encouraged staff that any strategy needed to include homeowners, and not just people who rent in downtown Hamilton.
“We need a very helpful, preventative strategy,” he said.
Even the Hamilton Library has taken action on bedbugs, spending at least $200,000 on bedbugs in 2013.
In 2010 the city created the Bed Bug Action Group to help provide advice to city officials on the best course of action.
“These (pests) are costly and complex,” said Susan Harding-Cruz, manager of vector borne diseases. “It does take a lot of effort (to eradicate the bugs). These are not going away.”
The comprehensive strategy is important, said city staff, to provide city officials with needed data on how to combat the pests, identify the best practices that other municipalities are doing; how to deal with the pests; and to consult with the provincial and federal governments.
“We need a nation-wide strategy,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “It’s foolhardy to work in silos.”
The provincial government introduced in 2012 a $5 million program, of whichHamiltonreceived just over $234,000. But the funding lasted until March 2012. And despite calls from city staff and councillors for the province to renew the funding program, the city hasn’t received further money.