A "Hoarding Task Force"? Don't these government nannies have any real problems to solve? What's next? A "Brush Your Teeth Task Force" that goes after old folks who don't brush their teeth? Or perhaps a "Stinky Underwear Task Force" that goes after old farts who don't change their underwear on a daily basis?
Arizona Hoarding Task Force sees a rise in inquiries
by Jackie Smith - Aug. 14, 2011 09:49 PM
The Arizona Republic
A state panel established to address issues surrounding hoarders in Arizona and provide a unified approach to helping them has seen more people reach out to its members.
The Arizona Hoarding Task Force held its sixth meeting last week at Scottsdale's Granite Reef Senior Center. The task force, established in March 2010, is a forum for Arizonans to share resources and ideas to aid those with the behavioral disorder.
Its members work in social work, public safety and code enforcement, primarily from Valley cities.
But among the new faces at Thursday's meeting was Gloria Bailey, who said she came to find ways to approach a relative she believes to be a hoarder.
The Scottsdale woman said her relative lives in Florida and finding resources to clean up the home has presented a challenge. She said she tries to visit the relative every couple of months.
"But walking into that place is like walking into some kind of a trap," she said. "You have to walk through these narrow pathways. And she gets angry every time I say anything. Right now, I'm hesitant to go."
Mike Reichling, a senior fire inspector in Tempe, showed photos of several homes his agency has encountered that exhibited hoarding. He recapped several fires the city department has dealt with this year in which hoarding was a factor. They included a March 12 explosion, which Reichling said was caused by "an overabundance of combustible material in the attic."
Scottsdale senior-center officials have said they have identified more hoarders in the community in recent years as they have worked with elderly residents. They say the popularity of television shows spotlighting the disorder has contributed to more reports from relatives or neighbors, as well as people who think they may have a problem.
Donna Brower, human-services coordinator at the Granite Reef Senior Center, said there's an "extremely fine line" between a collector and a hoarder.
Hoarding is identified in part by the Arizona Hoarding Task Force as "acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value."
Brower said social workers at Granite Reef have identified roughly 35 hoarders they've encountered in Scottsdale in the last five years. They're part of a growing number of hoarders who've surfaced as reality-television shows increase awareness of the issue.
At Thursday's task-force meeting, much of the discussion centered on how to define a hoarder and the possible use of an archive of photos maintained as cases are encountered to develop a scale.
Reichling said it's important to contact the relatives and friends of possible hoarders with such information to help them, especially as hoarding has begun to put first-responders in danger.
He said some situations have gotten out of control.
"In the commercial settings, in grocery stores, we regulate . . . high-piled storage. Sprinkler systems are required," he said. "We have so many codes that regulate those situations, but we can't do it in these homes because a person's home is their castle."
Mary Dickson, an El Mirage building official and task-force co-founder, said that if people step up to help, success stories may arise. She cited an instance in which she was called by a woman in Montana whose mother lived in Casa Grande and couldn't refinance her home because of her hoarding. The task force helped identify resources in Pinal County.
"I told her that is exactly what our purpose is," Dickson said. "It's just a source for referrals of different types of agencies that can come out and help."
One client at Granite Reef went through a cleanup in March for fear her hoarding would get her kicked out of her apartment.
The 64-year-old Scottsdale woman, B.C., who asked that her full name not be used, told The Republic that she believes she hoards because of the way her mother always made decisions for her, even into adulthood.
The collection of items she's bought and kept over the years eventually blocked an entrance to her home, and after a maintenance man came to fix her air-conditioner, she was turned into the apartment-complex office.
B.C. was at Thursday's task-force meeting and spoke up when the mental-health component to hoarding was discussed.
She called herself a sentimentalist and said, "I can't understand why people think all hoarders are mentally ill."
Task-force members said that without an intervention, many hoarders may revert to unsafe and unhealthy habits after they've experienced a cleanup.
The hoarding task force's next meeting is set for 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at Granite Reef Senior Center, 1700 N. Granite Reef Road.
For more information, go to azhoarding.com.