No Pity for the Man with the Bedbugs in Toronto

BIST Event 91-yr-old bed bugs City Hall Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2010-06-17

I went to City Hall – Nathan Phillips Square – for the BIST brain injury awareness celebration on June 17th, which the Brain Injury Society of Toronto was holding between noon and 2:00 pm on a perfect sunny day. As I wandered around looking for good angles to photograph the band on the stage, I saw this man sitting alone at a picnic table watching the young musicians. I felt compelled to walk over, sit down across from him, and ask if I may take his picture. He acquiesced readily. And despite the fact it was obviously difficult for him to move, he insisted on turning around to face me directly.

I felt strange as I normally don’t shoot portraits and especially not of strangers. And so I shot off a couple of photos quickly. I don’t usually take a lot of shots of a still subject anyway – I’m too impatient. Then I asked him if he was there to attend the BIST event. No, he wasn’t there specifically for the BIST event. He was there to escape the bedbugs.

Toronto has a growing bedbug problem, which Joe Fiorito of The Toronto Star is diligently exposing year after endless year as the city, landlords, and tenants behave as if this is not a big issue.

This man, this bedbug refugee, proves it’s a consuming issue.

Bedbugs drive people insane.

This elderly gentleman has been living in an apartment building that has had bedbugs for 4.5 years up until one month ago. Five weeks ago, he thought suddenly to take the Queen streetcar, an arduous trip for a man with a basic metal-frame walker and eyesight problems, to Nathan Phillips Square and hang out there every day of the week, in the fresh air, in the bedbug-free air. And even though the bedbugs are gone now, he still needs to get out, for their nerve-breaking memory lives on.

He is 91 years old.