JOLIET — Some people collect stamps or baseball cards. Rosemary Brown squirrels away the bedbugs she caught sucking her blood over the years.
“I’ve got dated bags of dead bugs I caught on my couch feeding on me,” the 71-year-old Brown said.
“I can’t sleep and my nerves are a wreck. I’m 71 and I’m getting emotional stress from everything I’ve been through,” she said.
Brown is not the only resident of the Joliet Housing Authority’s John C. Murphy building claiming to have been plagued by bedbugs. Paulette Robinson, 98, says they have been biting her for at least the last six months.
“The bedbugs were marching across the floor and literally feeding off her body,” said Robinson’s caretaker, Melody Woods.
Robinson cannot see or feel the bedbugs due to circulation and vision problems, but her caretakers are constantly changing her bedding to ensure her safety, Woods said.
“It doesn’t bother me, I can’t see them,” Robinson said. “But if you do a partial clean, you’ll never get rid of them. You have to clean from attic to basement, that’s the only way.”
Robinson pays $226 a month to live in her one bedroom apartment in the 139-unit North Ottawa Street building.
Property Manager Veronica Rosas conceded that there have been bedbug complaints since she started working at the Murphy building about six years ago but put at least some of the responsibility for getting rid of them on residents.
“I recommend tenants to educate themselves and be mindful," Rosas said. "Bedbugs are hitchhikers. Limit visitation to and from the apartment. Family and friends could take bugs back with them and bring them back to the apartment.”
The housing authority has been paying for thermal treatments, which cost roughly $1,000 dollars per unit, Rosas said, and for spraying less infested units at a cost of $50 per apartment.
The thermal treatment involves cranking up the heat in the apartments until the bedbugs die.
Brown said she spends at least $80 dollars a week of her own money doing laundry in hopes of washing out the bedbugs, but they still bite her. The laundry room is also infested, she said, with dead bugs in the dryer lint and living bugs crawling across the floor.
Brown said she keeps most of her belongings in totes and bags to protect them from bedbugs.
Woods said she was met with frustration when she brought the bedbug problem up to housing authority officials.
“I went to a board meeting where Bobby Hernandez said, 'it’s Government housing they shouldn’t complain,'” Woods said.
Housing authority Commissioner Robert Hernandez did recall an exchange with Woods, but claimed áhe actually attempted to explain the official process for making a complaint.
“I said it’s government subsidized housing,” Hernandez said. “If you want to complain after you go to the site manager, then you go to the board. We’re trying to do everything we can do humanly possible.
“I’ve gone into the building and visited with the residents, there’s no other commissioner that’s done that,” he said. “We need to address it.”
According to Hernandez, bedbugs are in all the housing authority buildings designated for elderly, near-elderly and the disabled residents, but the Murphy building and Adlai Stevenson building on Stryker Avenue are the worst. Hernandez said he has addressed the issue at board meetings and is “angry” with the Murphy building staff for how they have been handling problem.
“They sprayed rooms and didn’t plan on spraying the contaminated common area for two days,” he said. “A gentleman who had bugs on him left and had to be tracked down.”
Hernandez said the staff has to stay on top of the problem by treating the rooms and educating residents on how to properly bag and wash their belongings in order to prevent bugs from returning after an extermination.
No one from the Joliet Public Housing Program office could be reached comment Monday.