Beyond the clutter

24 November 2015 | Posted In: #127 Summer 2015/16, Ageing, Health Services, Planning for People and Social Issues, | Author: Mercy Splitt

Relatively new population research estimates that over 600,000 people, or 2.6% of the current population may suffer from a hoarding disorder writes Mercy Splitt; yet, potentially only 5% of those people ever come to the attention of statutory or NGO professionals.

When the problem is finally reported to authorities, generally following an accusation of breaking health codes, sanitation laws, or anti-social behaviour regulations, the ‘hoarder’ can face punitive legal action, which can include having children taken into care and/or eviction.

Catholic Community Services has been providing support to people affected by Hoarding Disorder and/or Living in Squalor since 2008.

What is hoarding?

The excessive accumulation of items such as clothing, newspapers, electrical appliances, food packaging (with many such items appearing to have little or no value) and a failure to remove or discard them. While the accumulation itself may not necessarily be an issue in all cases, this often means that the environment, in which they are being kept, becomes so cluttered that it can no longer be used for the purpose for which it was designed; consequently impacting on a person’s ability to carry out basic activities of daily living.

What is Squalor?

The accumulation of refuse and useless items as a result of impaired executive function can often result from brain disease and mental disorder; however, sometimes the accumulation is due to impaired mental or physical capacity to maintain one’s home. It is likely that those who live in squalor start doing so because of a complex interplay of triggers and vulnerabilities.

The multi-agency approach is the only sustainable option to support the increased situations of hoarding and/ or squalor.

Pathways through the mazeWith no state-wide collaborative or coordinated approach to addressing the problem, all the well-meaning, but uninformed support services, who have received little relevant, or practical advice, about hoarding and squalor, will keep spinning in arevolving door of punitive, but ineffective actions.

For the other 95% of ‘hoarders’ that remain hidden, the impact of compulsive hoarding and the resultant squalor is a daily, and often overwhelming, intrusion into the household and social activities for them and their families.

Hoarding is not an individual problem. An estimated 46% of people with a hoarding disorder live with someone else; therefore, the social, mental, emotional and economic impact on families and the local community is profound and far-reaching.

Catholic Community Services has developed a training programme that has a strong emphasis on the importance of designing and implementing services that take a person-centred approach and also have in-built flexibility for working with special needs groups.

The purpose of the program is to disseminate that expertise and best practice through training workshops and education sessions wherever it is required: thereby, building up a wide cohort of people from all sectors, organisations, and communities who will have a deep knowledge and interest in hoarding and squalor and the complexities that surround the issue.

Mercy Splitt is the Service Manager, Hoarding and Squalor Consultancy, Hoarding and Squalor Resource Unit (HSRU) at Catholic Community Services NSW/ACT