Hoarding Declared a "Hidden Crisis" in Brampton

 

We’ve all seen Hoarders, but most of us don’t realize that hoarding—the act of keeping a vast array of things and cluttering ones living space to an unreasonable (and unhealthy degree)—is happening close to home.

And that it can actually be dangerous. 

The issue of hoarding is not something that is commonly associated with fire prevention and safety. However, at a recent Region of Peel Council meeting, a delegation presented by the Coalition on Hoarding in Peel (CHIP) addressed hoarding as "a hidden crisis" as it relates to fire prevention.

In fact, a number of cases shed a light on this growing concern.

Back in 2010, a high rise building at 200 Wellesley Street in Toronto caught fire after a discarded cigarette landed on the exterior of a balcony that held some combustable material. 

"One of the unique things that was found in the investigation was the growth and the spread of the fire, and the results of that was due to hoarding," says Andrew VolHolt, division chief of Fire Prevention and Life Safety of Brampton.

"Hoarding was found on the balcony and in the unit itself, and during the suppression activity, the firefighters themselves couldn't even get into this unit."

The condo contained 719 units and 1,200 tenants were all displaced for about year and a half. As a result, compensation-related costs totalled a whopping $4.85 million.

After the blaze, the City of Toronto implemented a specialized program where different agencies worked together to aid individuals struggling with hoarding.  

A similar situation unfolded in Peel at the beginning of this year, when 25 firefighters responded to a "fully-involved" residential fire in the Lorne Park area in Mississauga. The fire had spread quickly and a number of personal items were found throughout the home. 

An elderly individual was killed in the blaze. 

Hoarding itself is a serious and complicated matter. 

Individuals that hoard have often endured traumas, abuse, loss, disability or the death of loved one. This makes dealing with people who hoard both a complex and sensitive issue, says CHIP

The National Fire Protection Association study suggests that hoarding disorder occurs in approximately 3-5 per cent of the general population. This is approximately two times the rate of individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder and four times the rate of those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"Hoarding does not discriminate based on income or education," says Heather Coupey, Community Development at the City of Mississauga. 

In 2013, hoarding became recognized as a diagnosed mental health disorder. However, having a diagnosis may not be enough to prevent individuals from being evicted from their homes and left homeless, if the hoarding is a serious concern.  

Anette Groves, the Ward 5 Regional Councillor, said that she hopes the agencies working in Mississauga can work to prevent evictions of seniors who are dealing with this mental health disorder. 

Experts say it’s important for the fire department to work with CHIP and related agencies, as it can use legislation as enforcement and use mental health associations to help with the emotional trauma associated with hoarding. 

There’s currently no legislation in place to curb the act of hoarding. 

"As of right now, it is not a prescriptive code requirement to have a reduced level of, or quantity of level of items in a home," says Andrew Von Holt, Division Chief Fire Prevention and Safety Mississauga. 

The CHIP wants to bring forward a recommendation to the Region of Peel Council at a later date that will allow the CHIP to develop a program similar to one developed by the City of Toronto where there is a multi-agency approach to assisting individuals. As well, discussion revolved around providing ways to educate the public as well as landlords on how to best deal with the issues of hoarding for tenants.

"We have found that when you have a fire department partnering with mental health agencies, that success rate goes up. That when you have those two pieces together, the fire department doing their piece on enforcement and you have someone who's doing mental health support, that success can happen for that person," says Coupey. 

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