Saanich forum gets to the bottom of hoarding issue

When Clutter Becomes Hoarding set for April 5 at Silver Threads Service in Saanich Centre

When Clutter Becomes Hoarding is a free session that will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. April 5 at the Silver Threads Service in Saanich Centre

An upcoming forum will look at the issue of hoarding and the impact compulsive collecting can have on people’s physical and emotional well-being.

Kelly Sprackett, Better at Home program co-ordinator, said she has heard from workers who encounter significant clutter in homes that goes well beyond the light housekeeping provided by the Better at Home program.

“We’ve heard from across the province that the Better at Home programs in other communities are experiencing the same thing. So we know it’s an issue and we wanted to help the community to be able to understand more about the issue and try and come up with ideas on how we can actually support these folks,” she said.

When Clutter Becomes Hoarding is a free session that will be held Wednesday at the Silver Threads Service in Saanich Centre, 286 Hampton Rd., from 3 to 5 p.m. Those interested in attending are to asked register in advance at tracyryan@silverthreads.ca, or call 250-658-3264 for more information.

Dr. Eric Ochs, a psychologist with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said hoarding is probably the second most common mental health diagnosis.

“It’s probably five or six per cent of the entire population. One person in 20, think about that,” said Ochs, who will be speaking at the April 5 forum along with Lt. Carl Trepels with the Saanich Fire Department.

Ochs said the best definition of hoarding probably comes from a book titled Buried in Treasures.

“Their message is: ‘Hoarding is a problem that involves difficulty discarding a large number of things, regardless of their actual value. We consider the problem to be serious when it prevents you from using your living spaces effectively and causes significant distress or affects your ability to function’.”

He said hoarding is not an issue that develops overnight, but can often increase in severity, particularly after a parent passes away and leaves behind a wealth of items.

“It can suddenly get a lot worse, but a person with a hoarding disorder has probably had it most of their lives,” said Ochs, adding it can take years to acquire enough things to fill a household to the point it becomes a problem. “Typically, when people are in their 50s that’s when this problem has gotten so bad for so long that now you’ve reached that threshold where we have a disorder here.”

He said many of those with the disorder are reluctant to seek help, and there are precious few resources directed towards treatment.

“There’s no department of hoarding yet. We have whole systems in our health care system to deal with things like depression and anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. We don’t have very much in place yet for hoarding,” said Ochs, adding hoarding was only recently recognized as a diagnosis.

“It’s always been a problem but it was subsumed in the past under another disorder called obsessive compulsive disorder. It was a hidden diagnosis in a way.”

Sprackett said the lack of information is one of the reasons Better at Home decided to organize the forum.

“It’s about knowing what resources are available to help people so that once they do get basically up to speed, we are able to go in and do that light housekeeping to help them stay in their home.”

Better at Home housekeeping is offered on a sliding scale, with some people eligible for up to a 100 per cent subsidy. Those in need of Better at Home services can contact Saanich Volunteer Services at 250-595-8008.

Those with issues that go beyond housekeeping are referred to the Hoarding Education and Action Team (HEAT), with information available at the website www.viha.ca/health_info/hoarding.htm or by calling 250-361-0227.

Ochs says one of HEAT’s main goals is harm reduction, as many of those with severe issues can often face the threat of eviction.

“We are looking to prevent horrible outcomes. We are looking to help, to the extent we can, to reduce the harms, improve people’s situations – not fix everything and make it perfect.”

He said there’s no proven track record for therapy and no medication that can provide a cure. One of the main challenges for HEAT is getting other agencies to recognize the seriousness of the problem. Ochs said the group is currently petitioning the District of Saanich to provide free tipping at the Hartland landfill.

“Nobody has a budget for this, nobody,” said Ochs. “The government hasn’t set aside money to pay for this and a lot of people are falling through the cracks.”

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