Project receives more than 300 calls since July, has 57 clients
By Melissa Murray
Kitchener Post staff
For some, hoarding means having to sleep on the toilet because they can’t find their bed.
For others, it could be a collection of large machinery that has taken over a one-bedroom apartment, which could compromise the integrity of the floor.
While hoarding never looks the same, there is almost always an underlying issue.
“The way people hoard is individual,” Gael Gilbert, executive director of supportive housing of Waterloo (SHOW), said.
In their supportive housing unit on Erb Street, they have four individual cases of hoarding.
One collects garbage, another hoards collections neatly placed within a spotless apartment, and another is an artist who hangs their collection from wire on the ceiling, placing each item in a plastic bag, she said.
When attention was brought to each case, SHOW went in and made a plan with the individual, whether that means making sure there is a pathway the size of a gurney through the machinery in case of an emergency, or scheduling weekly cleanup of the unit.
But now, SHOW and other agencies around the community are supported by Hoarding Project co-ordinator, Kim Hodder, who will go in and build relationships with clients and network with partner agencies in order to not only address the underlying issue of why someone is holding onto things, but also how to reduce harm to the individual, their family and the broader community.
“Without those relationships, the door doesn’t open,” Gilbert said.
Since Hodder took the reins of the project in July, she has received more than 300 calls and has taken on about 57 clients, with several more on the waitlist.
But Hodder wasn’t surprised by the amount of calls received.
“Already we’ve made some positive changes in people’s homes and people’s lives,” Hodder said, adding there have been about 15 success stories so far.
When Hodder receives a referral from individuals or community agencies, such as a landlord, the fire department or the humane society, she wants to see the home as soon as possible.
“I work with them to set goals for the future and to make a plan that keeps them in mind,” she said.
That’s important to the client, who often doesn’t see their home as a fire or health hazard.
“When I walk into a home, sometimes there’s nowhere to sleep, no clean water, the kitchen isn’t safe to cook in and people are getting uncomfortable in their home and it’s affecting their quality of life.
“Sometimes they can’t find a bed, so they sleep on chairs, on toilets or whatever they can,” she said.
Hodder then works with the agency that referred her to the client and other agencies, like counselling or cleaning services to help clean the home and reduce harm.
That can mean working with a landlord to help someone avoid eviction and losing their home.
The reality is, the situation isn’t just about what’s piling up in a person’s home.
“There’s a lot going on underneath all of that stuff,” Hodder said.
Hoarding can be an indicator of other underlying mental health issues, which is often triggered by a profound loss and may have genetic ties.
According to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder foundation, serious hoarding affects about one in 50 people.
But it crosses every socioeconomic line, said Gilbert. The Hoarders TV show made people realize it’s an issue that doesn’t exist in isolation, and it’s not rare.
And that’s no different in Waterloo Region.
“These people are not alone. There are hundreds of people across the region facing the same issues,” Hodder said.
In the next six months, The Hoarding Project hopes to launch two social enterprise programs. The first will train other people in the region who themselves are marginalized, are unemployed or struggling financially to help clean out the homes. The second will be to provide a place where gently used items from the homes can be sold, Gilbert said.
She also said the project will be applying for an Ontario Trillium Grant, so that they can develop a template for other communities to initiate a project like the one they’ve started in Waterloo Region.
“This seems to be an epidemic around Ontario,” said Gilbert. “Once the word got out there that this program exists, it just snowballed.”