Bed bug treatment deals financial blow to Torres Shelter in Chico.
Posted by Spencer Brown on
By ASHLEY GEBB-Staff Writer
POSTED: 11/11/2013 12:00:00 AM PST
CHICO — November to January is peak donation season time for the Torres Shelter, and it could use support now more than ever before.
After a bout with bed bugs and extensive efforts to eradicate the pests, the homeless shelter is grappling with depletion of its emergency funds and additional expenses as a result of policy changes to prevent another infestation.
Shelter Supervisor Bill Slack said this week that the shelter would greatly benefit from monetary donations to support ongoing operational costs, which have increased in recent weeks.
"It's just tiny little things but it adds up," he said. "All these added expenses make you wonder how our cash flow is going to look later in the year."
Attempts to eradicate the shelter's first case of bed bugs in 14 years were unsuccessful earlier this year, and in mid-October, the shelter had to resort to fumigation, which cost $11,500 even with a discount from Clark Pest Control. The funds came out of the shelter's deferred maintenance account, which was set aside for major or critical building repairs.
"If something happened now, it would be hard if not impossible to absorb the cost," Slack said. "We are looking for anybody who could help build that up again."
The shelter is doing all it can to prevent a re-infestation.
Guests now can only bring in a change of clothes and paperback book. Before entering, they have to undergo a brief physical inspection, pulling up pant legs, raising their arms and holding out hats or jackets to ensure no bedbugs are hitching a ride.
The policy has stopped bed bugs from re-entering three times, Slack said. Guests have gotten used to the routine, knowing it's intended to protect them.
But the policy changes have created additional expenses to an already tight budget.
Instead of the former method of storing guests' personal items inside in plastic tubs, the shelter spent several hundred dollars on outside lockers, and is paying $140 a month for an on-site storage unit for items treated during fumigation that still need to be processed. Other smaller costs have accumulated, such as garbage bags to enclose new guests' belongings until they can be inspected.
"The downside is we are not accepting donations at this time," Slack said.
Because the shelter does not have staffing, equipment or space to process donations and ensure they are not infested, it cannot accept the blankets, pillows and clothing it has relied on in the past. Slack hopes the shelter can purchase a commercial washing machine and dryer and place them outside to clean any donated items, but that may take time.
Without incoming donations, if the shelter needs additional materials, it will have to purchase them.
The shelter had already been hoping for additional donations to support amenities for its current $1.7 million grant-funded expansion project, which is adding a full commercial kitchen, case management offices, and cafeteria and activity space.
Drawing closer to completion, the expansion is starting to have that "new paint" smell, with bright colors now on the recently finished walls and carpet tacked down in the hallways.
The shelter is still saving for a covered bike enclosure, to prevent the bike thefts that are too common overnight, and solar panels to offset its energy bills.
The shelter has always depended primarily on the community for its operational costs, Slack said. Other than a single grant, donations provide all funding for the entire year.
As much help as it needs, the shelter is also looking to return the support. This year, the shelter on Silver Dollar Way will be a drop-off location for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots toy drive.
"It's a way for us to give back to the community in a way we don't normally," Slack said. "We're thankful for all we get."