Walter's hoarding left him with no space sleep and on the verge of eviction.
Walter is an avid jigsaw puzzle and DVD collector but his collecting began to get out of control. Not only was he collecting his beloved jigsaws and DVDs but many other items that most people would consider rubbish. The hoarding got to the point where he could barely move around his home. He was forced to sleep in a chair and he had several nasty falls.
The home became such a risk to Walter that the department of housing was forced to consider evicting him if it wasn't cleaned up. "I had so much stuff that you just couldn't move," says Walter. "They were worried about me hurting myself and that became a real issue."
Hoarding is a common problem amongst clients who are facing eviction. Despite the risk to their health and the risk of eviction people who hoard are still compelled to keep accumulating and not get rid of anything.
Walter was receiving support to try and get the property clean but it was intermittent and there was no consistent support to develop a plan to prevent more hoarding. "Although I was getting help it wasn't really making any dent in the situation," says Walter.
Getting the support he needed
Walter began working with Red Cross caseworker Michelle Leaver through the Assistance with Care and Housing for the Aged (ACHA) program. Through this service, Red Cross supports older people to either maintain the housing they have or, if this is not possible, to secure alternative housing which is safe, suitable and affordable. Caseworkers also support people to get the health and social support care that they need so they can maintain their health and wellbeing.
I had so much stuff that you just couldn't move. Hurting myself became a real issue.
Michelle and Walter worked together to get his home back to a liveable condition. "What Michelle did was, she came virtually every day to help and that way we were able to get on top of the situation. That's exactly what I needed, someone to be that continuous presence so I couldn't go backwards," says Walter
"Eventually we filled up about three skip bins full of stuff that we chucked out. Imagine that much stuff in the place," he continues. "It made me feel wonderful that I could actually see the floor - we actually had a walkway through that you didn't have to worry about tripping over stuff."
Finally getting a good night's rest
One of the most important changes was getting access to the bedroom and his bed so that he could stop sleeping in a chair. "At the start I couldn't actually use the bed, and we cleared that off so that I could get a good night's rest," says Walter. "That all had an affect on my health as well. Because I wasn't sleeping lying down my legs would swell up because I had a problem with high blood pressure. It's 100 per cent better since that's all been fixed," he says.
People older than 55 years make up 14 per cent of Australia's homeless population with many more at risk. Older Australians living on limited income and renting housing privately are particularly vulnerable. This vulnerability is seen in people not being able to pay their rent, paying so much rent they cannot afford food or other expenses, or in people living in unsuitable or unsafe housing. The impact on people's lives is compounded by increasing care needs as they age.
For Walter, the work he has done with Michelle has had a huge impact. He can now sleep in a bed, and is improving his health thanks to the support that Red Cross has connected him to. Most importantly he has space for a table to do his jigsaw puzzles on.
Walter says that he's still tempted to collect things. "I have to watch what I do but compared with how it was before it's 100 per cent better," he says. "I can walk round, I don't have to shift anything, it makes me realise that I never want to go back to what it was."
Photo: Ned Thornton/Australian Red Cross.