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Are You a Hoarder? Aldermen Set up Hoarding Task Force To Try To Help

By Linze Rice | September 1, 2015 5:41am
 A slideshow presented to North Side residents from the city's public health department help spell out some of the signs, symptoms and motivations behind different types of hoarding.
A slideshow presented to North Side residents from the city's public health department help spell out some of the signs, symptoms and motivations behind different types of hoarding.
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Chicago Department of Public Health

ROGERS PARK — After noticing "a steady increase" in calls for service regarding issues with hoarding across Rogers Park and Edgewater, local officials have formed a task force aimed at combating issues associated with hoarding through combined support efforts. 

"Other service providers, aldermanic offices, and emergency responders have noted the same trend; we all have felt ill equipped to adequately handle these problems," Ald. Joe Moore (49th) wrote in an email to residents, adding that his office probably receives a few dozen hoarding-related calls for help a year. 

Those callers are largely divided into two groups, Moore said — those who may be suffering from a hoarding disorder, and those who are property managers or owners who need help dealing with a tenant who may be exhibiting signs of hoarding.

It's hard for both sides: Generally people who hoard receive a notice of eviction and call the ward office because they feel they are being unjustly targeted, Moore said, while landlords call primarily because they need help managing an otherwise good tenant "but simply can't continue to tolerate" the behavior and its consequences. 

Among the biggest safety risks associated with hoarding: Being unable to spray for bugs, concerns over potential fire hazards and cluttered escape routes, and the physical and mental toll it can take on one's health, he said.

Knowing residents needed help, but feeling under qualified to provide adequate assistance, Moore and Ald. Harry Osterman's (48th) offices, along with public health officials, formed the Help for Hoarding Collaborative.

Linze Rice details what the task force's goals are:

Moore said that Ann Hinterman and Ginger Williams, housing liaisons for Moore and Osterman's offices, respectively, had met several months back while "commiserating on the challenges" each had faced with hoarding in their wards. 

He said that in the hope other professionals from various agencies might be able to add insight and assistance to "tackle the problem," representatives from both offices began holding meetings with experts across agencies and fields.

"In reality, this has become more of a support group for professionals," Moore said. 

But the group can only do so much, he said. 

The task force itself can't provide any direct services to residents or property managers, nor are there any clear paths or city services that straightforwardly address hoarding, he said. Other city departments like Family and Support Services or its public health sector also lack the resources to adequately handle the high level of hands-on worth that confronting hoarding requires. 

An Internet search reveals a long list of private Chicago-area agencies specializing in helping to clean up after people who hoard, but no statistics on the disorder could be found through the city's websites.

"What we have come to realize is that this disorder is incredibly complex, and each case requires assessment to know how best to treat it. We still don't have a great answer for people calling to ask how to handle these cases," Moore said, adding that his understanding of the disorder was that it often required working with a personal therapist to overcome.

What Is Hoarding? 

Entangled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a guide used by mental health professionals to define diagnoses) for years with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the newest version of the manual describes hoarding as its own entity — largely associated with a lower socioeconomic status, history of trauma or abuse and intense anxiety or depression. 

In 2013, one Humboldt Park house was featured on TLC's show "Hoarding." Earlier this year 110 cats were found in a Belmont Cragin home — an example of animal hoarding. 

In late August, Moore, Osterman, Daniel Bader — a counselor for the city's department of public health — and Steven Busch — director of the department's North River Mental Health Center — met with residents at Edgewater Library to have an open, informative dialogue on the signs, symptoms and causes for hoarding.

During the presentation, Bader cited that about 2-6 percent of the U.S. and European population suffer from the mental disorder, with middle-aged and senior residents three times more likely to be affected.

Criteria such as persistent difficulty parting with items, stress associated with departing from artifacts and a general over collection of possessions serve as signs that one might be struggling with a hoarding disorder — often in ways that interfere with relationships, work and life in general. 

According to Bader's presentation, about 80-90 percent of hoarders manifest emotional pain by "excessively acquiring" items in an attempt to deal with their feelings, though some cases are the result of "poor insight" he said.

Though Moore said his task force is more of an effort to help community leaders gain access to information and resources so they may then assist residents, Bader said emotional group and positive community support are essential for recovery. 

More traditional routes, like medication, therapy, 12-step programs and more can also help, Bader said in his presentation. 

As for what to do if someone thinks they may be showing signs of hoarding, or may have a hoarder living among them? 

Moore said he's not sure yet, but the task force will continue to seek information.

"I don't have good answers for those questions," Moore said. "It's why we formed the task force, so that we could develop good answers to those and other related questions."

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