Trinity Rescue Mission aims to eliminate bed bugs

Shelter seeking $100K to get rid of problem

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Trinity Rescue Mission in downtown Jacksonville is battling a bed bugs infestation.

The shelter is hoping to raise for $100,000 to get rid of the problem.

Trinity Rescue Mission says it has helped the homeless in Jacksonville for the last 50 years and has faced all types of problems. But it says the recent bed bugs problem has gotten out of control and has infected the entire building.

The issue is wooden frames on the bunk beds. The mission wants to replace all of them with metal frames.

"That would be a real simplistic way to say it," said Daniel Riddick, who works at the shelter. "In terms of the bedding itself, the wood is the issue. It supplies a place for them to live, and it's really hard to get rid of. We have invested tens of thousands of dollars up unto this point trying to tackle the issue."

The plan now is to literally tear out the problem.

"One of the ways we are doing this is through some physical construction changes," Riddick said. "We are going to be pulling out all the beds and bedding in here, changing up flooring and adding some specialized equipment that is heat generating that is going to take care of the problem."

The shelter hopes to use heaters that would treat every piece of clothing brought into the facility, along with replacing the wooden bunk beds with metal.

It's expensive, and that is why Trinity Rescue Mission recently sent out letters that say the corrections will cost more than $100,000.

"What we are trying to do is lead in this problem and put together a model that can be used by other organizations, emergency service providers to tackle this issue," Riddick said.

Those staying at the shelter didn't really want to talk about the bed bug issue. Staff members say they're dealing with it on a daily basis and trying their best to bring it under control. They are working with the Bed Bug Task Force in Jacksonville, which is made up of people from the Department of Agriculture, the community and exterminators. They say they hope to learn from what is happening there and use it as a test case of sorts.

"What we are hoping to do is make a difference, and we are hoping to write a protocol where we can eliminate the bed bug problem in community settings," said Jennifer Leggett, of the task force.

The Sulzbacher Center, another local homeless shelter, also had a problem with bed bugs about two years ago, but it has since made some changes. Its beds are metal and there is no carpet, as was previously the case.

The center first threw out the mattresses, the bedding and the carpet, but the pesky critters kept coming back.

"We could not understand why we could not control it, and then we realized the bed bugs were actually boring into the wood of the beds," said Cindy Funkhouser, of the center. "So we realized they were nesting in the beds, so you literally have to get rid of all your wood beds."

That's what they did, replacing most of the bed with metal frames. There are still some wooden bed frames in the women and children's dorms, but those will be gone in the next few weeks.

There are also bug zappers in place. Any client that stays there must have all his or her items heated in special bags to kill the bugs.

"It has not been cheep, which has been an issue because in the last few years all nonprofits have been suffering with the economy," Funkhouser said. "So it was a requirement. So that is the only way we could control it, so we had to bite the bullet to do that."

Trinity Rescue Mission is learning that.

"There is always going to be a problem with bed bugs, but you have to stay on top of it, especially when people are going from shelter to shelter," Funkhouser said.

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