Megan Sabell

Megan Sabell

Hoarding hotline sees a jump in calls

Working as an inspector with the Victoria Fire Department, Megan Sabell was shocked the first time she responded to a call about hoarding.

Working as an inspector with the Victoria Fire Department, Megan Sabell was shocked the first time she responded to a call about hoarding.

The front door of the tiny apartment wouldn’t open entirely and she couldn’t see the floor. The kitchen and shower were packed with bags of garbage and there was barely any access to the toilet.

Boxes, papers and clothes were stacked almost to the ceiling, causing Sabell much concern.

“I couldn’t even see the heaters. I didn’t know what was under there if something were to happen, and it was very warm in there,” said Sabell. “You get overwhelmed because you want to help, but you don’t know where to begin and that’s where it gets hard.”

Hoarding disorder is a mental condition defined as the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. An estimated one in 25 people in Greater Victoria have some level of hoarding behaviour and about 11,000 homes have a hoarding problem. But until recently, there’s been little in the way of an organized response to the issue.

In 2012, the Hoarding Education and Action Team (HEAT) team was created to provide a unified network that would support the increasing reports of hoarding in the community. The reports are primarily received through the city’s HEAT phone line, which is hosted by the fire department and monitored daily by Sabell.

Sabell receives calls from landlords, friends, family, neighbours or social and commercial agencies. Calls to the hotline have increased to 161 in 2015, and range from information on peer support, how to help an individual, the risks associated with hoarding and a potential hoarding concern.

Twenty-four confirmed cases of hoarding were identified in 2015. This year the number sits at 25.

Whenever Sabell responds to a home impacted by hoarding, she assesses how severe the case is on a clutter rating scale and tries to establish a good relationship with the individual in order to move forward. Then there’s the mammoth task of removing the mountain of clutter.

Limited companies work with extreme clutter cases, but their fees are up to twice the cost of a regular cleaning company and may not include disposal. To assist those with limited financial resources, HEAT has been dependent on volunteer services from a local community church that was also provided sensitivity training. But the decluttering process is very overwhelming, noted Sabell, and the group decided to help the community through another venue. The Cool Aid Casual Labour Pool is now used for some cases, but some are simply beyond the ability of the workers and require specially trained personnel, like one case in the West Shore.

“The individual was living in a mobile home and they used Depends (diapers) and things like that. They were just all over the house,” said Sabell, noting HEAT appreciates its volunteers. “The mental side of it is very tiring. You are there spending your own time trying to help an individual, going through items with them that they don’t want to let go of. Once help is finally there, they have a hard time parting.”

According to Island Health psychologist Dr. Eric Ochs, there are various reasons why some people’s living space is slowly taken over by their possessions. Sometimes genetics play a role and a person’s upbringing, along with other problems like decision making, being organized and issues with emotional attachment.

People with hoarding disorder can still function relatively normal in the outside world, but Ochs said it’s a large problem to solve on their own. Even after a home is decluttered, the disorder doesn’t go away unless the proper therapy and support system is in place.

“They have a very strong attachment to a lot of things and have a real hard time just throwing it out. It’s a process you’re always trying to keep on top of,” said Ochs, noting the disorder is highly stigmatized and didn’t even exist as a diagnosable condition until a few years ago. Still, roughly half the people diagnosed won’t admit they have a problem.

“They just cope day to day. They have a lack of insight that can be quite profound.”

A hoarding peer support group meets the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at the Royal Jubilee Hospital at 3 p.m. For more information call 250-361-0227.

For the first part of the hoarding series, click here.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

Nic Hume and his fellow paramedic stopped to rescue the victim of an Oak Bay hit-and-run – a duck – at the end of their shift Thursday morning. (Nic Hume/Facebook)
Paramedics rescue unusual patient after Oak Bay hit-and-run

A female duck was rescued while a male one was deceased on scene

Craigdarroch Care Home has put in place enhanced control measures after Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak. (Google Earth)
Island Health declares outbreak at second Victoria long-term care home

Two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at Craigdarroch Care Home

Tina Starkey with her seven-month-old puppy Sugar on the E&N Trail in Esquimalt. Starkey now carries a small personal alarm device, her thumb on the button. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Encounters leave Vic West woman concerned for her safety

The 50-year-old wants self defence training, says she’s not alone

An early morning fire along Cameron Street has left two cats dead and two tenants homeless. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Early morning fire guts Victoria house, leaves 2 cats dead

Victoria Fire Department called out shortly before 2 a.m.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. (Destination B.C.)
‘Stay local’: B.C. tourism groups back COVID-19 travel ban

Fast-spreading variants make non-essential travel too risky

As the snow in Manning Park melts, searchers are able to get a little farther each day. Photo submitted
Family resumes search for son missing in B.C.’s Manning park since October

‘This is our child, and we don’t give up on our children,’ said mother of Jordan, Josie Naterer

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

Most Read