Why do Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions have bed bugs

Why do Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions have bed bugs?

Homeless shelters, rescue missions, and domestic violence shelters have historically had quite a lot of trouble keeping bed bugs out. The reason that it is so difficult for these facilities to stay bed bug free is multi-faceted. Let’s explore a couple of reasons that it is difficult to keep shelters and missions bed bug free. Then, let’s walk through some procedures that can help. 

The top reason it is so difficult to keep shelters and rescue missions bed bug free: When folks come into the shelter, they bring their belongings which is generally the way that bed bugs are introduced into the shelter. 

A photograph of Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions.

What are the procedures for taking in guests at a homeless shelter or rescue mission?

The procedures for taking in guests at a homeless shelter can vary depending on the specific shelter and its policies. However, here are some common procedures that shelters and missions follow:

  1. Intake and Registration: When a guest arrives at the shelter seeking housing, they typically go through an intake process. This involves filling out necessary forms and providing basic personal information such as name, age, gender, and any special needs or health concerns.
  2. Identification: Missions may require guests to provide identification documents, such as a driver’s license or ID card, to verify their identity. However, some missions may accommodate individuals even without identification.
  3. Screening, Assessment, and Diversion: Shelter staff often conduct a screening process to assess the individual’s eligibility and needs. This may include interviews or questionnaires to determine their circumstances, reasons for homelessness, background check, and any immediate safety concerns.
  4. Rules and Expectations: Shelters typically have rules and expectations that guests must adhere to. This may include maintaining a respectful and safe environment, following designated schedules, abstaining from drug or alcohol use, and complying with any specific shelter regulations.
  5. Bed Assignment: Depending on availability, guests may be assigned a bed or sleeping space within the shelter. This could be a communal dormitory-style sleeping area or individual room, depending on the setup.
  6. Orientation and Services: Clients are usually provided with an orientation, where they are informed about the shelter’s rules, services available, and any specific programs or resources offered. This can include information about meals, hygiene facilities, medical services, counseling, job training, educational opportunities, and leisure activities.
  7. Support and Case Management: Many shelters offer support services and case management to help guests transition out of homelessness. This may involve assigning a case worker who works with the guest to identify their needs, develop a plan for stability, and connect them with community resources or assistance programs.
A photograph of Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions.

All of these steps are very important in the process of client intake. But what’s missing? 

Often, homeless shelters and rescue missions do not have procedures in place for preventing bed bugs at this stage. The intake process is one of the most important times to ensure that procedures are in place to protect the shelter from bed bugs. 

We recommend setting up a resource room where guests of the shelter or mission go with their belongings after it has been assessed that they are eligible to stay. Have the client place their belongings into a plastic tote emptying any backpacks or other bags into the tote as well. This will help you transport their belongings without spreading bed bugs, as well as, see how to separate the items for proper treatment. 

Remove any items that cannot be heat treated based on our pre-project checklist. Any medications will need to be separated and stored as well as anything that would melt or be damaged in high heat.

Give the guest clothing* and a towel and have them take a shower. Take all their clothing, including the clothes they were wearing, to the laundry room. Dry the items for 15 minutes, wash with hot water, and dry on high heat for the normal drying cycle. 

A photograph of Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions Bed Bug Equipment.

*A shelter in our area works with the local hospital to take donations of scrubs they no longer use. These are great for this step so that all of the guests clothing can be washed and dried including the clothes they are wearing. 

Any items that cannot be washed and dried must be heat treated for bed bugs. We worked with our local shelter to set up a Zappbug Bed Bug Chamber to heat treat guest’s belongings as they enter the shelter. Items should be treated for a minimum of 4 hours to be sure that any bed bugs infesting the items are killed. The Zappbug Oven 2 will treat an entire suitcase with room to spare. This would be ample room to treat items that are allowed to be brought into the shelter. We worked with another shelter to designate a small room or closet to treat client’s belongings using a bed bug heater. Metal shelving with grate style shelves are recommeded as they allow proper air flow to all of the client’s belongings. A hanging bar can be used for any clothing items that cannot be washed and dried.

A photograph of Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions with electric bed bug heater.

During the process of laundering their clothes and heat treating other belongings, you can work with the client to complete the needed paperwork and get some food. Once all of these steps have been completed, the clients belongings can be returned to them, and they can return the borrowed clothing. 

By implementing these preventive measures and maintaining a vigilant approach, shelters can greatly reduce the risk of clients bringing bed bugs into the facility during intake and minimize the chances of infestation spreading to other areas.

Another reason it is so difficult to keep shelters and missions bed bug free: Clients and employees exit the shelter or mission and re-enter daily. If you have followed the above intake procedure carefully, the only other way for bed bugs to be introduced to the shelter is with folks entering and exiting daily. Bed bugs can be picked up at work, on public transportation, at a friend or family members home, as well as so many other places. Because of the large number of people moving through the shelter each day including at meal times, your shelter or mission should implement the following daily procedures. 

How do you keep from getting bed bugs in your homeless shelter or rescue mission?

  • Regular Inspections: Implement routine inspections of sleeping areas, mattresses, and furniture to detect early signs of bed bugs. This can include checking for live bugs, fecal stains, eggs, and/or shed skin casings.
  • Education and Awareness: Educate shelter staff, clients, and guests about bed bug prevention, identification, and reporting. Encourage everyone to be vigilant and report any signs of bed bugs promptly.
  • Cleanliness: Maintain a high standard of cleanliness in sleeping areas and throughout the shelter. Regularly clean bedding, mattresses, and common areas using appropriate cleaning methods and products. 
  • Encase Mattresses and Pillows: Use bed bug proof mattress and pillow encasements to prevent bed bugs from infesting these items. These encasements create a barrier that traps existing bugs and prevents new ones from accessing the mattress or pillow. They also offer a water proof and allergen proof barrier keeping mattresses cleaner.
  • Proper Storage: Store personal belongings securely and away from sleeping areas. Encourage guests to keep their belongings in sealed plastic bags or totes to reduce the risk of bed bugs in their belongings.
  • Regular Laundry: Provide guests with access to clean bedding, blankets, and clothing. Regularly launder these items using hot water and high heat drying to kill any bed bugs or eggs that may be present. 
  • Proper Disposal: Develop procedures for the proper disposal of infested items. Infested mattresses, furniture, or other items should be discarded appropriately to prevent the spread of bed bugs to other areas of the shelter.
  • Client Responsibility: Encourage clients to take personal responsibility for bed bug prevention. Teach them how to identify signs of bed bugs and provide guidelines on how to minimize the risk.
  • Lights Out: Light Out All-Natural Bed Bug Spray is an excellent preventative measure for folks entering and exiting the shelter daily. As this bed bug spray is all-natural and does not require a pest control license to spray, it is safe for use around people and pets. Bi-weekly spraying of backpacks, bags, and purses will deter or kill bed bugs. We also recommend spraying Lights Out on the seating in public eating and lounging areas as many of the folks who come into the shelter for meals have not been through the intake procedure. Therefore, this is a time when bed bugs could be introduced into the shelter. Lights out kills live bed bugs on contact and has a residual effect for up to 30 days.
A photograph of Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions with Bed Bugs.

Preventing bed bugs entirely will be challenging in a communal living environment like a homeless shelter or rescue mission. However, by implementing proactive measures and responding quickly to any signs of infestation, the risk can be significantly reduced.

We have watched our local shelter make an inspiring transformation from really struggling with bed bug infestations to vigilantly maintaining a bed bug free environment for clients. We are so thankful to have worked with them on creating bed bug procedures for intake, as well as, whole room treatment options. The Jackson Interfaith Shelter utilizes our BK17 Bed Bug Heater and a Winco Generator (to provide the needed power that wasn’t available in the building) to treat their large dormitories, apartments, and houses when the need arises for more thorough treatment. 

We are so grateful for the work that the Jackson Interfaith Shelter does in our community to serve folks who are unhoused. The staff and many volunteers from the community invest in the lives of people who are struggling and truly celebrate with them as they move towards a brighter future. We are so thankful for their work and the work that so many other shelters and missions do in their own communities. 

If you have any questions, we’d love to talk to you about personalized bed bug treatment options for your shelter or mission. Give us a call at 844.364.3281.