There has been much media coverage recently about hoarding. Questions are being asked whether we should or shouldn’t address hoarding through legal or social mechanisms. How do we balance the needs of people living with hoarding versus the rights of neighbours and others in the community?
Woden Community Service (WCS) has been very vocal about the needs of extreme cases of hoarding and squalor. Why have we spoken up so strongly? Because it is an issue that is often overlooked, stigmatised and misunderstood, and it is an area of our community service work which is highly specialised. There are few community agencies with the skills and knowledge to effectively support people who experience this difficulty.
For many years, WCS has worked closely with people with serious hoarding issues through our housing support and mental health programs. It became clear to us there needed to be a more specialised service in this area, and it was a clear gap in our service system.
Therefore, the WCS Board agreed to trial a small program out of our own funds for a short period. WCS was mindful of the difficulty of having such a short period of support, so we designed the program to minimise the trauma that could be created by starting and stopping support.
Through this and other work in the field, we have seen that this group of people often have significant mental health issues which are rarely addressed. Their hoarding behaviour has brought them in contact and often conflict with a range of authorities – mental health agencies, public housing, city services, waste removal and others. Many of these interactions between them and the authority have been difficult and frustrating for both parties. This has often led to high mistrust by the person towards government agencies.
There is a great advantage in having a community organisation like WCS providing support. By working closely with the person with the hoarding issue, we can build trust and rapport, supporting them to navigate the many authorities involved. We can help coordinate the many services involved and support them to address the underlying difficulties they have and continue to experience. We can also help by working with family, friends and neighbours, addressing their need for support in the face of extreme hoarding behaviours.
To successfully address this problem in our community, the government needs to look at the evidence that ongoing community support has provided. Short-term grants and tightening legislative controls are not answers to a significant social problem.
To find out more about Woden Community Service’s work within the community, please visit their website.