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Hoarding towards homelessness

John's hoarding almost led to his eviction until Red Cross stepped in to support him.

John* confesses he gets excited as the footpaths in his local area build up with household furniture and appliances in the lead up to the council pick-up of hard rubbish. His hobby of collecting discarded items with potential value had reached the point where he was at risk of being evicted and was ashamed to let people into his home. Now he's working with the Red Cross Intensive Tenancy Support program to de-clutter his home and regain control of his life.

John's hoarding had reached the stage where he was about to be evicted from his government housing unit. The housing department contacted Red Cross to work with John in a last ditch attempt to help him avoid homelessness.

"Well, I've got bit of obsessive compulsive behavioural thing happening," says John. "I tend to compensate by grabbing stuff and surrounding myself with what I consider objects of value, but which just turn out to be cluttering up my living environment."

John has good insight into his problem and understands that the electronics, cars, bicycles, and other household equipment that he collects hold little value to others and are having a severe and negative impact on his quality of life.

"I'm just surrounding myself with things to make my life more fulfilled," says John. "I can turn to the left and say, 'Oh, there's something I can fix', or I can turn to the right and say, 'Oh, there's something I got for nothing from hard trash', but in reality I'm just sort of compensating for not feeling very good about myself. The only person I have over is my five-year-old son and I'm embarrassed every time he walks through the door because the place is just such a mess."

A serious disorder, a common problem

Hoarding Disorder is a serious mental health condition. The condition is proposed for inclusion in the next edition of the 'bible' of mental health disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Jody Sachs, the case worker supporting John to avoid eviction, says that hoarding is a common problem among the tenancy support clients and it can have a detrimental affect on people's lives.

"Red Cross has learnt a lot in the past year about hoarding and the impacts of hoarding on an individual and the risks it places on their tenancy," says Jody. "Largely hoarding is related to mental health, but essentially our role with John is to help him reorder his life, de-clutter his home and make it a better, healthier living environment for himself and his five-year-old son."

Despite some initial reluctance to get support from Red Cross, John has found the support he's received invaluable. "For me the best thing has been having someone come and visit me every week, that isn't judgmental that's just supportive of what I'm trying to achieve. Even if I don't manage to reach my goals every week, someone comes to visit me every week and helps me. And that is the most important thing, because I don't get many visitors."

John has made huge progress and has cleaned out three of the rooms of his unit so that they can now be used again. This includes making way for a plumber to fix the hot water system which had been out of action for more than a year.

"It's weird, it's a sense of achievement because it's been a long time that the place has been a disaster area," says John. "My bathroom looks exactly the same as when I moved in to it. That was really strange, taking photos of that and emailing them to my support worker saying, 'Hey, look what I did.' I got this, 'Wowee!' back from her saying how great she thought that was. That was really important, that was a really big step and having that sort of support can make all the difference."

* Name changed to protect the client's privacy.


Photo: Daniel Carter (Australian Red Cross)

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