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Phyllis Anderson uses a walker and suffers her share of health problems, including a blood clot. On top of that, she says she is dealing with bedbugs.
Anderson lives on the fourth floor of the Fox High-Rise, which is part of the Housing Authority for La Salle County.
Last year, the authority acknowledged a bedbug issue at Fox, among other places.
Currently, the authority is dealing with 13 units with bedbug issues six in the Ottawa-Marseilles-Seneca zone, five in the Streator area and two in the La Salle-Peru-Oglesby-Mendota zone, according to officials. That figures to about 1 percent of units.
Sitting in her studio apartment Monday, Anderson pointed to black marks on her chair's armrest she said were droppings from bedbugs, which feed on human blood.
Anderson, who has lived in the high-rise for 29 years, said she doesn't suffer from any itchiness as the result of bedbugs, but the droppings upset her. She said she takes pride in her apartment's cleanliness.
While a reporter interviewed her Monday morning, Anderson received a phone call from an authority official, who said the agency would send a private exterminator to treat the problem Thursday. Anderson was told she would be required to leave her apartment for four hours and follow instructions, which include packing up everything in her apartment.
Anderson told the official she did not have the physical ability to pack up her belongings. She became angrier during the conversation, disputing the authority's requirements. After a few minutes, she hung up on the official, telling the the reporter, "That may get me in trouble."
Her hands shook. The conversation, she said, disturbed her.
In October, an authority-hired exterminator treated her place. Then, she received the help of a couple neighbors to put her things back in place. She stayed in one of their apartments during the treatment. But those neighbors have since moved, leaving her with fewer options.
"If it weren't for the two neighbors, I don't know what I would have done," Anderson said. "I can't hire someone. I don't even have money for my medicine."
Looking in her calendar, she said the bedbug problems started in the high-rise in early 2013. In all the years before that, she said she never heard of such an issue there.
Rick Jurkas, the authority's executive director, confirmed Anderson requested an inspection for bedbugs. He said a search last Friday yielded one live bedbug and two dead ones.
"It sounds like the bedbugs were in the carpeting," Jurkas said. "If the unit were heavily infested, you would see them in the bed. We called (the exterminator) right away after she called. The biggest thing is getting on them right away."
According to the authority's policies, tenants must contact the management office if they believe they have bedbugs. If an inspector finds them, tenants will be required to comply with the treatment process. This includes signing a checklist, preparing for treatment, changing living habits, cooperating with pesticide contractors and teaming up with the authority until the bedbugs are gone.
Jurkas said he would look for an organization that could help Anderson, but others may not want to come in, given the bedbug issue.
Anderson's unit is the only one now with bedbug issues at the Fox High-Rise.
Until about a decade ago, public housing in La Salle County and around Illinois dealt with cockroach problems, not bedbugs, Jurkas said.
"Before 10 years ago, there was never a bedbug anywhere in public housing," said Jurkas, who has been with the authority for 35 years. "Bedbugs are now something we'll constantly have to deal with until the powers that be come up with something that kills them. Ideally, we would have zero bedbugs. I don't know if that day will ever come. I think it's an ongoing problem."
La Salle County's public housing, he said, experiences 20 percent turnover every year.
"People are constantly coming and going. Bedbugs come in from used furniture and used clothing," Jurkas said. "All it takes is bedbugs coming in from somewhere else."
Bedbugs are flat, tiny insects, oval in shape and light tan to brown until after the bite, in which case they turn a reddish color.
Bedbugs are considered a nuisance, causing skin rashes. But they pose no health risks. The level of sanitation has nothing to do with the existence of bedbugs. The insects burrow deep inside of couches and other items.
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