Wednesday, March 09, 2011

MoCo Takes on Hoarding

ROCKVILLE, Md., March 8, 2011—The Montgomery County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee and its Public Safety Committee will meet jointly at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 10, for a worksession with the County’s Task Force of Hoarding Behavior. The task force was established in 2009 to raise public awareness and develop hoarding prevention strategies by assisting county residents who are among the 2 to 5 percent nationally afflicted with this unusual condition.

The Health and Human Services Committee, which is chaired by George Leventhal and includes Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice, and the Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Phil Andrews and includes Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich, will meet in the Seventh Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live on Cable County Montgomery (CCM—cable channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon).

According to the Task Force of Hoarding Behavior’s report, “Hoarding is the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions in a residence which appear to be useless or of limited value.”

Such behavior has been associated with several psychiatric disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and various personality disorders. Hoarding also has been differentiated as its own distinct cluster of behaviors. Signs and symptoms of the condition are known to pose serious health and safety risks, especially in the private home, and can lead to a number of violations for walkway blockages, infestations, house damaging and fire hazards.

The report quotes Gail S. Steketee, co-author of the study “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things,” as saying 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers “from extensive collecting and clutter.” Based on those figures, the task force report estimates that of Montgomery County’s population of approximately 971,600, about 20,000 to 50,000 residents may potentially be identified as hoarders.

“Hoarding threatens the well-being of entire neighborhoods, as well as the individual hoarder, and we need to develop strategies for helping these persons at the onset of hoarding behaviors,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “Even more important is spreading awareness of hoarding to curtail the behavior before it ever starts, since it largely occurs in private and is often discovered when it is too late.”

Throughout 2009-10, smaller workgroups of the Task Force of Hoarding Behavior developed strategic work tools, some of which the County government currently utilizes. These work tools provide general information to the public and allow for numerous agencies and members of the community to locate points of contact when exposed to hoarding situations.

A subgroup of the task force identified the following major signs of hoarding:

* Blocked access or exit to any door or window due to clutter
* Clutter that impedes or prevents movement in and around residence (narrowing of hallways, portions of rooms blocked off)
* Clutter that prevents any part of the inside or outside of dwelling to be used for its intended purpose
* Trash and garbage inside or outside residence (not in designated receptacles)
* Signs of rodent/insect infestation or factors associated with health concerns that could have an impact on resident or neighbors
* Visible damage to stairs, ceilings, floors or walls
* A large number of animals that are not being cared for and cause a health risk for the occupants, neighbors and/or general public
* Kitchen appliances and/or bathroom fixtures that are not functional and/or accessible
* Combustible materials stored too close to a source that could ignite it i.e. stove, over heater vents, portable electric heaters, furnace, gas cans, fireplaces
* Absence of working smoke detectors
* Gas cans or other noxious materials, stored in a residence, of which the fumes become a potential health hazard
* Absence of running water, heat and/or electricity

The consistently changing demographics of the local community affect the number of mental health issues and the physical and emotional concerns. As the population of 65-and-older increases, the accounts of these issues increase as well.

The main goals of the task force include organizing public/private responses to hoarding cases, raising public awareness, coalition building with other agencies and establishing a four-point Hoarding Awareness/Intervention Program that consists of awareness, identification, proactive assistance and follow-up/monitoring methods.

“Extreme hoarding behavior can also endanger the safety and health of neighbors because of increased risk of fire and rodents,” said Councilmember Andrews. “That is why hoarding could affect more than just the individual with the behavior.”