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Watertown to host forums on hoarding next month

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 29, 2013 03:45 PM

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Globe Staff/File 2007

An example of a dangerously cluttered home.

If you suspect that you or someone you know might be a hoarder, Watertown health officials are here for you.

The Watertown Health Department will host two public forums on hoarding, a syndrome marked by the uncontrollable acquiring of objects, animals, and even garbage. The meetings will be held Nov. 7 and Nov. 14, both from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Watertown Library on Main Street.

The first meeting will address the behavioral issues underlying hoarding; the second will discuss ways to support a hoarder, both emotionally and with ways to clean up.

The meetings come as Watertown health officials are garnering funds and resources to support locals who might have a hoarding problem, said Will Van Dinter, a public health nurse in Watertown's health department.

Watertown officials usually see between five and eight severe hoarding cases per year, where health inspectors must condemn the home as being unfit to live in, Van Dinter said. Additionally, inspectors usually see about 15 more minor cases annually, he said.

"We usually find out after the police or the Fire Department get a medical emergency call, and when they get to the house they'll find an unusual amount of clutter and will have problems accessing the home," Van Dinter said. "Then we have to do a sanitary inspection, which usually results in the condemnation of the house."

The town is hoping to raise awareness among locals so that friends and family of hoarders can help nip the problem in the bud, before seeing a loved one's hoarding spiral out of control.

Van Dinter said Watertown officials are also working to create a local support group free of government control, noting that a behavioral issue is usually the root of the hoarding problem.

"We want to eventually reach a point where there is a group established, where these people can talk about their problems in an open forum without fear of being judged or anything like that," Van Dinter said.

Watertown housing officials also use grants from the Marshall Home Fund, a Watertown-based foundation supporting the town's senior citizens, to hire professional organizers and cleaning crews for people over 55 years old who might need help, Van Dinter said.

Through the November meetings discussing the issue, health officials hope to prevent hoarding before it gets too out of hand.

"We want to raise awareness about existing services, so people can realize they can go to a professional organizer, have some counseling through a social worker, and try to correct a behavioral problem that they're having," Van Dinter said.

Nationally, the issue has gained some attention through shows like A&E's Hoarders, which documents severe cases. In 2011, Arlington launched an effort to train its police and fire personnel to recognize the characteristics of compulsive hoarding and take steps to help the individual facing it. The program was funded through a $7,000 state grant.

For more information on hoarding or the upcoming meetings, visit Watertown's official website.

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