Trying Not to Pile On

September 7, 2011
By

These were the conditions found by Inspectional Services Department (ISD) investigators at a home on Dehon Street last month. The owner of the home has what has come to be known as ‘hoarding disease.’ ISD officials said it is a growing problem in Revere, and a delicate one to combat.

They were called ‘slobs.’

Then they were called ‘lazy.’

Now, those who create horribly messy conditions inside and outside their homes are called ‘hoarders,’ and it’s now known as a valid mental illness that can be treated.

Inspectional Services Director Nick Catinazzo said that hoarding has become quite a problem in Revere and in many other cities, and it has also gained quite a bit of notoriety as well with a reality show about the problem on cable television.

Understanding the problem has been a process, said Catinazzo.

“We thought these types of properties were owned by people who were just slobs or lazy,” he said. “Come to find out, after doing research and going to some state-sponsored classes, it’s more of an illness. Hoarding is actually an illness that can be treated.”

Catinazzo said that ‘hoarders’ actually develop a bond with things that they buy and trash that they might collect. Parting with those things can become catastrophic for them.

“They collect things that are of little value or importance, but they find these things very important,” he said. “Hoarders don’t have a problem with the conditions. They are aware of the conditions, but they have an emotional feeling and attachment to these little things the have.”

What to do about the situation is a totally different issue.

Many times the properties are in absolute disarray, both inside and outside. This prompts complaints by neighbors, who are rightly concerned about their property values and rodent problems.

It’s a delicate balance between legitimate quality of life concerns and a documented mental illness.

At some properties in Revere, conditions have become so bad that there are only small pathways into the homes and smaller pathways inside the homes. Plastic bags, boxes and materials of all sorts are stacked to the ceiling. Even their cars are stock full of various items – and often become inoperable.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said it is a big issue, but one that is hard to solve quickly.

“It’s a very tough situation for the City to deal with,” he said. “We’ve had at least two or three of these situations and they go on for a long time because courts are legitimately hesitant to act on what is clearly some sort of medical/psychological problem. So, enforcement is delicate.”

Catinazzo said they have recently taken action on hoarder homes on Dehon Street and Whitin Avenue, but he said it seems like there are more and more cases popping up.

“People don’t believe it, but the conditions are so bad that it’s hard to explain and hard for people to believe,” he said. “It is a problem and it seems to grow more and more prevalent each year. There seems to be more people like this popping up. It’s hard to tell who is really a hoarder and who is just lazy. However, hoarders create these conditions inside and outside their homes. When we find a home that is bad outside, but the inside is okay, that’s not hoarding and we figure that out.”

Catinazzo said that they often refer hoarders to a social worker, and in one case, they were able to get the woman out of her property and move her into public housing.

However, the clean up on such properties is often very expensive, and the City rarely recoups any of the money.

At one home on Butler Street, the City had to shell out nearly $4,000 to clean up the situation.

Nevertheless, Catinazzo said it is hard to criminalize hoarders because many of them are very nice people and they wish they didn’t have the problem. Many of them, Catinazzo said, hold steady jobs and are professionals. At home, however, their living conditions are in utter disarray.

“There is a lot of pity for hoarders,” he said. “Most of these people are very nice people, but my job as ISD Director is to make sure the properties are clean. At least now we know what it is and can be pro-active. Before, we didn’t know what this was and thought they were crazy or lazy. It’s not so. They do have a sickness and something can be done about it.”

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