Post updated May 2015
With increased public awareness of hoarding due to the TV series, Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive, more and more people are contacting professional organizers for assistance for themselves or their loved ones. Although this presents a good business opportunity, working with this challenging population requires a specific skill set and should not be attempted without specialized training.
Furthermore, helping your clients to organize their physical environment is only one piece of the puzzle. Hoarding is usually the result of a serious mental health condition which must be addressed in order for any lasting changes to occur. The health and safety of your client as well as his or her family members and pets must also be taken into consideration. For this reason, professionals from other disciplines will nearly always be involved as well.
In many communities, task forces have been formed to bring together the many different agencies involved in supporting the needs of individuals and families whose lives are affected by hoarding. Geralin Thomas, a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization (CPO-CD), describes this trend in her book, From Hoarding to Hope: Understanding People Who Hoard and How To Help Them. As she explains, the first such group, the Fairfax County Hoarding Task Force, was formed in 1998. Since then, hoarding task forces and coalitions have been established in other communities around the world, and a list is maintained on the International Exchange on Hoarding website.
If you work with hoarders, or are interested in doing so, find out whether there is such a group in your area, and how you can get involved. Having access to organizations who deal with mental health and addiction, financial support, child protection, animal control, crisis intervention, and other issues, will make you better equipped to connect your clients to the additional supports they may require. In addition, making yourself known to these professionals may open the doors to more opportunities for your business.
In the event that there is no formal group in your community related to hoarding, it is in your best interest and that of your clients for you to assemble your own list of non-profit associations and other businesses with whom you may be able to collaborate. Canadian Professional Organizers Heather Burke and Laurene Livesey Park have played an active role in the formation of the Kingston/Frontenac Region Hoarding Coalition, through which they meet with other service providers and front line workers from a number of disciplines on a monthly basis.
The Coalition is “committed to creating easy access to the integrated services needed to maintain housing stability and a quality of life that optimizes the health and safety for those who find themselves in a hoarding situation.” Their resource list, which is constantly being updated, currently consists of the following:
- Services, including the Housing Help Centre, Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and Salvation Army
- Clothing Programs
- Children’s Services
- Animal Control
- Crisis Intervention, including hospitals, fire, police, and ambulance services
- Financial Resources, such as social assistance and credit counseling
- Food Services, including food banks
- Garbage and Large Item Removal
- Home Support Services
- Legal Aid
- Lifestyle Transition Specialist
- Mental Health Services and Counseling
- Addiction Services
This should provide you with an excellent starting point for creating your own list. You may need to conduct in-depth research to discover resources that might not immediately come to mind. For example, I recently learned about an initiative in my own community called the Hamilton Gatekeepers Program, which was created over five years ago to work with health and social service community partners to identify seniors with Diogenes Syndrome. Characteristics of this disorder include domestic squalor and compulsive hoarding of rubbish, yet it’s not a term or a program I’d heard mentioned before.
Even if you do not work with hoarders, you and your clients will benefit from having access to a directory of contractors, painters, cleaning services, shredding companies, suppliers of closet and/or garage organizing systems, and other related services and products.
Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.