Using IPM to Battle Bed Bugs in Public Housing

Bed bug
A bed bug.

Public housing presents unique pest-management challenges, including rapid turnover of residents, language and cultural barriers and even second-hand clothing and furniture.

And those pest problems – especially when bedbugs are involved – can lead residents to resort to some pretty drastic and harmful pest control strategies.

“Some people are using gasoline on their mattresses,” said the University of Arizona’s Dawn Gouge, the project leader of the Western IPM Center’s IPM in Public Housing Project. “It’s incredibly dangerous.”

To help residents address pest issues in a far safer way, Gouge and the project team conducted 13 trainings for public housing residents and managers in Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Colorado, teaching folks IPM principles they can use to keep bugs out of their homes and manage any that get in.

However, during the trainings, the researchers learned as much about reaching their target audience as public housing residents and managers learned about integrated pest management. And Gouge and her colleagues used those lessons to develop more effective ways to teach IPM to a public housing audience as the project progressed.

“We knew there would be language barriers, for instance,” she said. “But we learned that doing separate presentations for different language groups is much more effective than a mixed audience.”

Other lessons:

  • The message for the residents and managers doesn’t need to differ all that much.
  • Online resources aren’t much help because so few people have Internet access.
  • Lectures are boring. Interactive presentations, demonstrations and giveaways are much more effective.
  • Live bugs rule.

“It’s when I started bringing live specimens that we got the ‘ah-ha’ moments,” Gouge said. “Even if it was just three or four specimens – that’s when you get people.”

Another thing the team learned is that in the urban pest hierarchy, bedbugs are king.

“I’m convinced you can hold up a bank with a bedbug,” Gouge said. “That’s how afraid of them people are.”

In fact, at one presentation, a resident brought in bugs from her home she thought were bedbugs. When Gouge told her they were young German cockroaches, the woman left – even though German cockroaches are linked to health issues like asthma.