How to prevent hoarding before it becomes a deadly problem

It’s a growing issue in areas all across New England but city officials in Newton say there is a solution.

NEWTON, Mass. — During a wellness check in December, first responders say they found one of the worst hoarding cases they’ve ever seen along with a woman dead inside her Newton home.

It’s a growing issue in areas all across New England but city officials in Newton say there is a solution.

BioPro Boston, a hoarding case clean up service, says things can easily get out of control.

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And that clutter can be deadly. A fire last April in Newton struck a home where a man was trapped in his basement. Firefighters couldn't get to him due to all the stuff piled in and around his home.

“So we’ve had instances where the doors will only open a third of the way, so you’re trying to get a firefighter in full gear and a hose line through that door,” Newton Fire Capt. Chris Markowski said. “If we don’t have access to fight that fire we just can’t.”

Back in 2016, a Malden firefighter got trapped in a home while fighting a fire where a person was hoarding loads of belongings. In 2017, a woman was found living in a Brookline home with her sister’s corpse and mountains of clutter.

Newton – along with other cities and towns with hoarding task forces – is working to get ahead of the problem.

"The stuff just begins to take over your space," Pam Weissman, with Newton Health and Human Services, said.

Weissman leads the hoarding task force. She says they connect hoarders with the health department, housing authority and Riverside Community Care to stop the hoarding before it becomes dangerous.

"When you start collecting lots and lots of things, it is part of a mental health disorder," Weissman said.

Many of the calls the task force gets are from concerned family members or relatives. And while some of the hoarders are reluctant for help, others appreciate it.

"Some people have said, 'thank you, I don’t know how to start, can you send someone out to help me,' and 'can you tell me where to begin.'"

Mass.gov estimates around 5 million people struggle with mental illness related to hoarding.

Hoarding is often hidden but there are signs to look for if you’re worried about a loved one:

  • Social isolation
  • Attachment to belongings
  • A dirty home
  • Clutter outside of the home

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