Tuesday, March 16, 2010

San Diego Wants A Way To Deal With Hoarders


Society is fascinated with people who acquire huge amounts of junk they can't throw away. And it's spawned at least one reality TV show, called Hoarders. But finding a way to deal with hoarders is not entertaining. Hoarding can cause neighborhood nuisances and public safety problems. That's why people have come together in San Diego county to try to create a consistent and effective community response to hoarding.

If you lived next door to a person who's home was a mess, and that mess was bursting out of the house and onto his lawn or driveway, you might complain to city hall. Complain enough, and word may eventually get to Diane Silva-Martinez. She's chief deputy for code enforcement with the San Diego City Attorney's office, and she said hoarding comes to her attention once it's gotten very bad.

"Usually when the case is out of control. Usually when a neighborhood has had it. Typically when a case comes to me it's from a code inspector or it's directly from the community," she said, "and the property has been in that condition for many, many years. So you have rats now that are affecting the neighborhood. There's concern for the person's safety inside."

Martinez is one of many people who attended a conference on hoarding this month at the Balboa Park Club. The San Diego Hoarding Collaborative convened the conference. The collaborative was formed last summer with the goal of developing a community response to hoarding which can be used in all jurisdictions. Cities are already dealing with hoarders, of course. Allen Edwards is a La Mesa code enforcement officer who's seen his share of problem properties.

"It can be an extreme where their plumbing is out. Their water is shut off. We don't know how they're using the bathroom. We don't know how they bathe but their neighbors maybe have a clue that they're doing this in the backyard," said Edwards.

Chuck Strickland is the La Mesa Fire Marshall. He said the sheer amount of junk hoarders keep in their homes creates a fire hazard that's very dangerous to residents and to fire fighters.

"Firefighters are going in there and the fires are far more intense," said Strickland. "It's far more difficult to find victims inside there. They have things falling on them. So the likelihood of somebody being injured or dying is just dramatically increased."

Psychologists say hoarders have a psychiatric problem that's closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder. A large number of problem hoarders are old folks. Mark Odom is a clinical social worker in Orange County. He said he's seen cases involving people who are bed-bound, who spend their days ordering new stuff..." More