Sunday, August 30, 2009

Madison inspectors help hoarders clean up

Bill Lueders

Last week A&E debuted a new reality show, Hoarders, about people who engage in pathological accumulation, often due to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Last Saturday, Madison police found the body of a 70-year-old woman in the garage of a house described as "full of garbage," in some places stacked five feet high.

How big a problem is hoarding in Madison?

"We deal with it, and the Health Department deals with it," says George Hank, head of the city of Madison's Building Inspection Division. "These cases are very time-consuming."

Hank's division focuses on tenant hoarders, generally about one new case a week. The health department, meanwhile, handles owner-occupants. Both work cooperatively with residents, to get them to, er, clean up their acts.

"We use, for lack of a better phrase, the baby-steps approach," says Hank, explaining that tenants may be asked to just make a dent. "We've worked with people for a year to get things cleaned up, because we know this is a mental health issue."

When children are involved, the urgency increases. A few years back, a child protection worker joined Hank on a visit to a tenant with "huge storage and garbage issues" and laid down the law: "I'm coming back at four o'clock, and if this place isn't clean the kids are coming with me."..." More