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Hoarders impact the lives of those around them

Cathy Dobson Hoarding is endangering the lives of people and their pets on a regular basis in Sarnia, say professionals regularly called in to assist. “Sometimes it’s twice a month.

Cathy Dobson

Hoarding is endangering the lives of people and their pets on a regular basis in Sarnia, say professionals regularly called in to assist.

“Sometimes it’s twice a month. Sometimes it’s twice a week, and that’s just in the city,” said Tracy King, a community support worker with Lambton County Housing Services and the co-chair of a collaborative effort created to respond to hoarding.

Often, emergency services like fire or EMS encounter a hoarding problem and alert her.

King and co-chair Roel Bus of Sarnia Fire Prevention do the initial investigation, and what they find is often unsettling.

“We’ll go into places to determine if there’s a path. There might be some way to get to the living room but usually the bedroom doors are blocked,” said Bus.

“We’ve seen places with no path, where the occupants are sleeping on a couch or the kitchen floor because there’s too much stuff in front of the doors.

“I was in one house where I opened the basement door and thought I’d opened a door to a closet,” Bus said. “It turned out to be a 15-by-30 foot rec room so full of toys, magazines, papers and stuff that it touched the light bulbs on the ceiling.”

What you never experience on TV hoarding shows is the stench that frequently accompanies hoarding, King said.

“We get a fair number of animal hoarders. You just never know what you’re walking into.”

One call came from a resident concerned about his neighbour’s uncut grass. When an inspector arrived, a large number of cats peered from the windows.

“We found 150 cats in a one-floor house,” said King.  “You can imagine the smell of ammonia.”

Situations are assessed using a clutter scale. A rating from one to three is normal; four to six is concerning, and seven to nine means action is required.

Since the Sarnia Lambton Home Response Collaborative formed in 2012 there have been many successes, King said.

“To me a success might be that a house is made safe enough for the occupants to stay there or someone has been transitioned to a long-term care facility or hospital.”

The Sarnia & District Humane Society is frequently involved, she added.

Anyone can report a suspected hoarding situation to the collaborative by calling King at 519-344-2057, ext.2174 or Bus at the East Street fire hall, 519-332-1122.

Signs of a problem might include:

* Isolation;

* A yard full of garbage;

* Junk spilling out of the house;

* No garbage on garbage day;

* A rundown property;

* No use of the bedroom;

* Windows covered over.

A conference on hoarding will be held May 18 at Living Hope Christian Reformed Church on Exmouth Street.

The keynote speaker is Joy Batalion, the daughter of a hoarder.

She grew up in Montreal, attended Harvard and is the New York-based author of “White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood and the Mess In Between.”

Batalion travels extensively talking about her experience and how her mother’s mental health impacted her.

“I reacted to my mom’s hoarding by doing the exact opposite,” Batalion told The Journal. “I became a neatnik, or as I’ve called myself, a militant minimalist.”

About 4% of the U.S. population is a pathological hoarder, she said.

“I’m not sure about Canada but this is a staggering number. Think of the ripple effect – all the children, partners, siblings, parents and roommates that share domestic space with hoarders.

“Many people are affected by this disorder.”

The Sarnia Lambton Home Response Collaborative is hosting the third annual conference. There’s space for 120 at the daylong event, which will cover topics such as animal hoarding, vulnerable occupancies, the ‘extreme clean’ program and related legal issues.

Tickets are $125 and available online by visiting

Aside from hoarding, the Collaborative also addresses pest infestations, vulnerable tenants and seniors, and those with complex medical issues.

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