LEWISTON — They needed to see a body, dead or alive.

That’s what Misti Oliveira, a tenant at the Hillview Housing Project in Lewiston, was told when she complained to the Lewiston Housing Authority management office about the bed bugs she had in her apartment.

Oliveira is a full-time student at Central Maine Community College, who works part time, and is a single mother raising two children ages 1½ years old and 2½ years old. She said she has been trying to get the housing authority, which receives federal funding, to send an exterminator to come deal with the problem for the past two months.

“I was told there is nothing they can do until I physically catch one,” she said. “I can’t catch one. I’ve been looking and trying to catch one because I want these gone; it even says online that these suckers are so hard to catch sometimes you need a professional just to even catch one.”

Her 1½-year-old son now has a serious infection from picking a scab left from a bed bug bite, she said, adding that she has medical records and a note from a doctor confirming it. But even that wasn’t enough evidence for the building authorities, she said.

It wasn’t until a building maintenance worker, who was in her apartment about a week and a half ago for a different reason, saw evidence of the bugs, that the Lewiston Housing Authority scheduled an extermination appointment for her apartment.

“You shouldn’t have to wait until you physically catch one, which could take months and months,” she said. “No, you don’t come spray right away, I understand it costs money and time. But if you can prove the bites, coming over and showing them the bites, if you have a doctor’s note, then something should be done.”

Jim Dowling, executive director of the Lewiston Housing Authority, confirmed that the working policy for bed bug treatment is to ask the tenant to show a bed bug body first.

“If someone reports bed bugs, but doesn’t catch one or have anything to show us, it’s very hard to know whether there are bed bugs there or not,” he said. “It saves (us) from tearing a unit apart looking for bed bugs, which can sometimes be hard to spot.”

Dowling said the housing authority’s written policy does not specifically mention bed bugs.

“The Lewiston Housing Authority will make all efforts to provide a healthy and pest-free environment for its resident,” he read from the policy.

Bed bugs have become an increasing problem over the last two or three years, Dowling said, not just in Lewiston but all over the United States.

“Bed bugs have become an enormous problem and we exterminate them every time we find them, but they do keep coming,” he said.

Past cases have been addressed after tenants have produced a bed bug body, he said.

“That’s what we look for, those can be found,” he said. “(Oliveira) did not bring a body to the office. She actually had reported bed bugs two or three times and we had asked her each time, ‘can you catch one and we will come and confirm?’ But to my knowledge, that never happened, she never caught one.”

Dowling said there are currently three bed bug cases that are scheduled for treatment among the 459 units that are owned or managed by the Lewiston Housing Authority. About 20 units are getting treated for cockroaches, he said.

Oliveira, who’s rent is paid through February when her lease runs out, said if she continues to have trouble with bed bugs she’s prepared to move out; an exterminator has been scheduled to come treat her apartment on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to sit around for a year while they try and get rid of the bed bugs,” she said.

Kristine Foye, deputy regional director of the Boston regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the department does not have a specific policy regarding bed bugs.

“Housing authorities are expected to maintain decent, safe and sanitary housing, but it really is up to the property manager to address the issues,” she said.

For more information about bed bugs, visit http://tiny.cc/6TWmD.

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Full-time college student and working mom Misti Oliveira says she is going to throw out all of her mattresses, and possibly some other furniture, when she moves out of her Hillview apartment because of the bed bugs and cockroaches in her apartment. Her 1½-year-old son now has a serious skin infection from scratching at bed bug bites.

Misti Oliveira kept a small number of the cockroaches she killed in her Hillview apartment to show to the management. It took them eight months, according to Oliveira, to schedule an exterminator for her otherwise spotless home.

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