Compulsive Hoarding is believed to affect up to 5% of the population, crossing all racial, socioeconomic, and gender lines. In a population of 250,000, this means that approx 12 to 13,000 people in New Orleans are hoarders. After hearing many stories from family members seeking help in dealing with hoarding, it became apparent that access to information and resources is greatly needed.
Many communities have taken the route of forming Hoarding Task Forces for this end. I approached the City Council in New Orleans to propose looking at the formation of a Task Force but was unsuccessful.
Economically speaking, Compulsive Hoarding drains resources:
- Many family members are alone in trying to cope with hoarding.
- Many family members are literally “squeezed out” of their loved one’s lives and homes.
- Children of hoarders suffer long-lasting psychological issues, and many are then left to deal with the hoard itself when the parent passes away or a crisis has occurred.
- Often neighbors must deal with rodents and other wildlife attracted to a hoarded yard.
- Even if the yard is maintained well and/or not hoarded, odors from the home may also create nuisance.
- Mental illness (co-morbid with hoarding), is a major cause of absenteeism in the workplace.
- At times, problems with the legal system also cause poor attendance.
- As conditions in the home degenerate, employers are sometimes forced to send employees home due to poor hygiene.
- Physicians often are not likely to be aware of hoarding behavior in the home, since doctors rely heavily on self-reporting.
- Hoarders or others living in the environment may present with allergy complaints, asthma, pulmonary complaints, resistant infections that all may be due to environmental factors (mold, dust, mites, roaches, rodents, dirt, rotting debris, feces, etc) in the home.
- Inaccessibility or complete lack of a space adequate to take care of hygienic needs impacts basic health.
- Injuries, easily dismissed as a simple fall, may be an indication of problems in the home.
- Because hoarding may also limit use of the food preparation areas, poor diets may exacerbate complications with chronic illnesses and diseases.
- With inadequate food storage, illnesses from spoiled or improperly prepared foods may also occur, appearing as a ‘flu’ or a ‘bug.’
- Mental health professionals:
- As stated above, there is a high incidence of social anxiety and depression among hoarders and many hoarders present to mental health professionals for these reasons. Few of these are ever identified as hoarders.
- The lack of disclosure frustrates resolutions to medical issues, thus wasting time resources.
- Compounding the problem of treatment is the necessity of ascertaining how other mental and physical health issues are impacting the hoarding behavior, even when it is discovered.
- Other than eviction, landlords have few options to protect their property from a renter who hoards.
- Costs include lost rents, eviction costs, cleaning, pest control, repairs.
- Furthermore, if landlords do not address known hazards, they are liable for legal consequences.
- In San Francisco, many landlords voiced that they would like a go-between between them and their hoarder tenants. I suspect that this approach (good cop/ bad cop) may be beneficial for other stakeholders.
- Protective services:
- Hoarding deprives the residents safe use of the home, whether they are the hoarder or not. Clutter in the rooms and hallways create fire traps.
- Clutter on stairs may cause falls.
- The health of all residents is compromised due to unsanitary conditions and infestations.
- The hoarder’s psychological issues and the strained relationship with other residents in the house can cause lifelong problems.
- Economic hardships make loss of utilities likely.
- Protective services may become involved with a hoard when the situation becomes so extreme as to put a child, an elderly or a disabled person in danger.
- Family members, frustrated with the situation, often threaten reporting the hoard to CPS or APS. Often, these agencies arrive in the hoarder’s life due to a report from another mandated reporter, such as another governmental agency.
- Code Enforcement:
- Hoarders are reluctant to allow repair people into their homes for fear of being discovered and reported.
- The hoard itself also stresses the structure of the home: plumbing, wiring (particularly in the case of vermin infestation), joists, and roofs.
- Generally at the complaint of an outside party, an officer may intervene due to excess debris in the yard, a visible code violation, or after a report from another agency.
- The decision to call any emergency service provider can be difficult for a hoarder, generally only calling as a last resort due to the fear of discovery.
- Oftentimes, fire and/or EMT may arrive only to find they are unable to gain access to an injured or ill person. Police would also have the same problems.
- Fires are much more difficult to extinguish in a structure which is hoarded, magnifying the chances that the dwelling will become a total loss.
- The chances of a fire originating in a hoard spreading to other structures nearby are higher.
- Hoarders are also less likely to have their property insured or carry liability.
- Since hoarders typically suffer from economic strain, they tend not to have resources to cover any damages made worse or as a result of their behavior.
- Hoarders themselves face a myriad of legal problems, ranging from problems with frustrated neighbors, Protective Services, Codes, and landlords, to name the obvious.Those around hoarders are also subject to legal problems ranging from children who inherit hoards as well as landlords.
- More than just the economic benefit of a task force, Hoarding Task Forces also provide:
- A unified and consistent treatment plan for hoarding cases
- Training and education for all affected and for the larger public
- Services and support for the hoarders and their families
More information on Hoarding Task Forces may be found at: http://www.hoardingtaskforce.org/
A book helpful in setting up and working within a task force:
The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Service Professionals By: Christiana Bratiotis , Cristina Sorrentino Schmalisch, Gail Steketee