Representatives from the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission are opening up about a persistent problem in hopes members of the community will step forward to assist with funds needed for a more permanent solution.
The problem, which is not uncommon in places like homeless shelters and hotels where people come and go often, involves bedbugs.
Mission officials hired an exterminator to do a sweep of the Portage Road site on Wednesday.
Without anti-microbial mattresses and pillows and specialized equipment that helps kill bedbugs found on clothing, rescue mission leaders fear the pesky and often costly problem will return.
Hiring exterminators, sometimes at a rate as high as $1,000 per visit, is just not something the mission can afford to keep doing, according to Tom McLaughlin, who has served as the rescue missions’ executive director for nearly two years.
“We thought we had it pretty much under control but about six months ago it flared back up. We’ve been bringing exterminators in regularly, but we haven’t been able to solve it,” McLaughlin said.
The mission is now seeking the community’s help to raise $10,000 to purchase 80 anti-microbial mattresses and pillows made from materials that help prevent the growth of microorganisms, including bedbugs. Mission leaders would also like to buy a “hot box,” a temperature-controlled storage device that would allow shelter inhabitants to have their clothing treated at a temperature higher than bed bugs can survive.
Julie Larocco, a strategic advisor that assists the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission and 44 other shelters in other parts of the country, said bedbug infestations are common in homeless shelters and the problem can be disruptive to services and programs offered to individuals in need.
“These folks are people who are surviving on the street,” she said. “They have no way to protect themselves from bed bugs. There’s nothing really that they can do. They do change their clothes. They do take showers when they can, but just like everybody else they are limited to the resources they have available to them.”
Larocco said anti-microbial mattresses and pillows and a “hot box” have been used to successfully combat bedbugs at missions in other parts of the country. She’s hoping, with community support, the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission will be able to do more to address the concern.
“It is pervasive. It is everywhere,” said Larocco, who works with shelters in Oregon, Virginia and other communities across the country. “I encounter this in every single mission. There is not a mission I’ve worked with, not one, that has not had this problem.”
McLaughlin’s message for the community is simple: Helping the mission meet its needs in helping homeless people in the Falls by giving them a place to stay and a chance to become involved in programs that can help change their lives.
“We hope that they want to help the people who are most vulnerable in the community,” he said. “Any community that cares for the most vulnerable in the community is a healthy community.”
To support the gospel rescue mission’s efforts, individuals can send checks to the mission at 1317 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, New York 14301.
Donations can also be made online by visiting the mission’s website at https://niagaragospelmission.org/. On the website’s donation link, donors can designate a reason — like purchase of new mattresses and pillows — for their donations.
The rescue mission welcomes donations and volunteer assistance.
For more information, contact the mission at 716-205-8805.