Fall River Herald News: A growing problem: Hoarding in Fall River

Source: Fall River Herald News

FALL RIVER – Chronic hoarding, the disorder characterized by an unwillingness to discard items and frequently associated with cluttered homes, appears to be on the rise locally.

City Inspectional Services Director Glenn Hathaway said hoarding cases posing a public health or safety risk used to be a more rare occurrence in Fall River, but now city officials estimate that roughly half a dozen cases are being reported annually.

“My assumption is that it’s a lot of these people getting older and they need medical help or they need some other kind of help. People go in to assist them and they find this stuff,” he said.

Whether it’s visits from a city department, home health aides or delivery meal services, more and more properties are being reported in Fall River.

A woman living in the South End was hospitalized last July after her Slade Street home was condemned for having too many animals on the property. The city’s Animal Control Department removed 10 animals from the house, two of which were dead.

Nearly 80 cats were removed from one Fall River home in February 2017 after the MSPCA was contacted about finding a new home for the animals. That same year, an elderly woman was killed during a fire at her Orswell Street home when firefighters were unable to reach her. At the time, fire officials remarked they had difficulty locating her as the house was “jam packed” with items that made it difficult for firefighters to easily navigate the building.

“It’s happening behind closed doors, usually in owner-occupied homes so neighbors or city officials usually don’t know until there’s some kind of emergency,” said Jesse Edsell-Vetter, program manager for Boston’s Center for Hoarding Intervention.

While local estimates put Fall River at six cases per year, experts in the field say that the number of residents living in such conditions is likely higher.

“The research shows the prevalence rate in the U.S. is about 5 percent of adults, so that number seems very low to me,” said Edsell-Vetter when asked about Fall River’s reported cases.

With an estimated population of roughly 88,000 people, Edsell-Vetter said Fall River likely has as many as 450 cases, ranging in severity, that just haven’t been discovered yet.

This was a similar estimate given by Eileen Dacey, a program manager and clinical specialist for the Northshore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering. According to Dacey, the issue of hoarding is widespread throughout the state but not all communities are actively addressing it.

“In some communities, there’s been a lot of pushback on any talks around hoarding with people saying that it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “But it doesn’t depend on socioeconomics. It can happen to anyone because it’s a disorder.”

In Fall River, city officials in the offices of code enforcement and minimum housing say the hoarding cases they have come across in the last few years have primarily been elderly people living alone.

“They tend to be people that don’t have a relative that can help them,” said Faust Fiore, Fall River’s director of minimum housing. “Some of these properties we’re dealing with are mid-scale. A couple of them are upscale. Some are the nicest places in town. There doesn’t seem to be any socioeconomic indicator.”

The city can condemn hoarder properties and prohibit residents from returning to them until the space has been professionally cleaned, but few supports exist locally to help beyond that.

Edsell-Vetter said there are resources and task forces focused on hoarding throughout the state, but he said he was unaware of any in the immediate Fall River area.

“Many communities have started partnering with service providers or social workers to provide hording prevention services and they’ve been effective,” he said.

In her experience, Dacey said cleaning a home of clutter without any kind of follow-up services frequently leads to homeowners returning to hoarding tendencies.

“Any type of forced cleanout results in high recidivism rates, sometimes as high as 94 percent even if they don’t go back to the property,” she said.

Apart from the risks facing homeowners, Hathaway and other city officials are warning people that properties where hoarding takes place also presents hazards to neighbors.

“It’s an excessive fire load. If a light tips over and hits a stack of papers in the corner, it’s going to start a fire,” he said. “There are times where there is so much stuff inside that the door can’t open far enough for firefighters to get in.”

Hoarding, particularly of any organic material, can also lead to increased risk of skin and respiratory illness.

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