There IS Help Available for Hoarders
Bellingham Fire Department SAFE Coordinator Brad Kwatcher
Hoarding and the related clutter can be a dangerous problem, but there are steps that can be taken to identify and help those at risk. SAFE coordinator Brad Kwatcher of the BFD spoke at the Senior Center on Thursday, September 29, to help seniors understand the problem of hoarding.
Sponsored by a grant from the Department of Fire Services, Kwatcher covered the definition of hoarding and how to prevent it, and highlighted the dangers of hoarding, not only to the individual but to police and fire services responding to calls. While he stressed that hoarding can happen to people of any age or demographic, seniors are especially at risk because they’ve accumulated more things.
Senior center member Linda Johnson talked about the importance of the program. “My parents were of the Depression generation,” Johnson explained. “And I was taught not to waste.” As a result, things don’t get thrown away and tend to build up. This can present real problems, such as tripping hazards, as well as a need for safe exits. Kwatcher highlighted stories in which police and fire were prevented from doing their jobs, and even suffered losses, for lack of being able to move in a house, or because exits were blocked.
Fire Chief Steven Gentile was on hand to talk about town resources that can be utilized for a hoarding issue. As well as contacting the fire department or senior center, Gail Bourassa, the town’s new mental health coordinator can be of assistance. Gail was hired under a regional grant from the MA Councils on Aging to provide outreach, assessment and evaluation services for residents, age 60 and over, who are struggling with anxiety, depression and other issues, including hoarding. She can be reached at 508-657-2791 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kwatcher listed some steps that can be taken to help someone with a hoarding problem, which start with patience.
“A lot of the things people hold on to have sentimental value to them,” he explained, so patience is a virtue in tackling the problem. To help, you must be willing to be understanding, because sometimes progress is slow. The process can be overwhelming, so frequent breaks are needed. Also be willing to give a little, and accept that some things can be kept; not everything must be let go of. In the end, although progress can be slow, from a safety standpoint, it’s very necessary.