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Vancouver tackles hoarding problem to prevent tragedy

(by Staff, CTV News)


The City of Vancouver is gathering experts together to determine how to deal with the problem of hoarding by its residents before tragedy strikes.


Vancouver is among the first in North America to form a panel to develop protocols to identify hoarding, and the precautions city workers should take when dealing with hoarders.


“We’ve got a protocol now that if we do identify a building that is hoarding, that is excessive, we will put that into our system,” Vancouver Fire Department Deputy Chief Les Sziklai told CTV News.


Sziklai says the problem seem more frequent than it did ten or 20 years ago.


Compulsive hoarding involves acquiring an excessive amount of objects and being unwilling or unable to get rid of them. According to a Johns Hopkins University study published in 2008, hoarding is prevalent in 4 per cent of the population in the United States. It can be hazardous — posing health and safety risks.


Out-of-control hoarding claimed a life last October. A Vancouver home that was packed to the rafters with boxes and debris caught fire.


When firefighters tried to enter the building to save the resident, they realized they couldn’t. The amount of items in the house made it too dangerous to go inside. A man’s body was removed from the home the next day.


At that time, Vancouver Fire Battalion Chief Randy Hebenton told CTV British Columbia, “If you have a lot more combustibles than your average house it will go up faster,” he said. “It makes it harder for you to exit in case of a fire and makes it extremely difficult for us as firefighters to initiate a rescue.”


Authorities hope the hoarder who is flagged receives help before there is an emergency. But one psychologist warns that cleaning up may get rid of the garbage, but it doesn’t cure the problem.


“Individuals that hoard don’t normally present [themselves] for treatment. So, if I have a private practice, I don’t normally get calls form people who say I’m engaging in hoarding,” clinical psychologist Dr. Joti Samra told CTV News.


“If you take away the objects but haven’t helped the individual [with] what it is that’s led to this behaviour and give them alternate coping responses, you haven’t solved the problem.”



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