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Proposed hoarding laws not addressing psychological concerns, health advocates say

Lachlan Roberts 14 August 2019 31

The Canberra Liberals’ proposed laws do not factor in mental health issues, advocates say.

Health advocates are concerned that the Liberals’ proposed crackdown on hoarders and property owners who fail to keep their properties clean, won’t address the psychological factors behind the phenomenon. They are asking the ACT Government to invest in mental health programs to help hoarders overcome their compulsion.

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe proposed new laws into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday morning (14 August) to force sordid properties to be cleaned up and penalties imposed.

Mr Coe said the Liberals have received numerous complaints about the Government’s failure to address residential hoarding issues, despite the health and safety risks hoarding can present.

Kaleen resident Kimuel Jetter said his neighbour’s front and back yards have been the site of mass hoarding over the past six years. The hoarding initially focused on animals but now the yard is filled with whitegoods like refrigerators and washing machines.

Mr Jetter said he has addressed the issue with his neighbour but with no success.

“My concern is for the health and safety. I don’t like going out in my backyard and having the smell be an issue,” Mr Jetter said.

“I want to use my property comfortably without issue, without smell, without mosquitos, and having to worry about rodents. I purchased my property so I can enjoy it and at the moment that’s not happening.”

The Canberra Liberals say the build-up of whitegoods is clearly encroaching on public land. Photo of an example of whitegoods hoarding: Supplied.

However, Mental Health Community Coalition ACT executive officer Simon Viereck has warned the Liberals against their approach to dealing with hoarders, saying that it doesn’t solve the problem.

“Hoarding is a mental health issue,” Mr Viereck told Region Media. “It is compulsive behaviour. It is not just because the person wants to have lots of stuff. They just can’t help themselves.

“What we know from members of ours who work with people who have hoarding behaviours, just cleaning the place up and taking them away does not solve the problem and it doesn’t solve the reason why the person is hoarding.

“While a clean up can be an important thing to do and I don’t discount that there could be safety issues, if you simply go in and clean away all the stuff, they are likely to start accumulating again the very next day.

“What we need is someone to support that person through working out why they are collecting all this stuff and working out a way to let go of it.”

Under the Liberals’ proposed laws, a government inspector must attend the premises at least once every 20 working days once an order to clean up the property has been issued.

If an ongoing order is issued, clearing the property must be completed within five working days, while the owner or tenant will have to pay twice the expected value of clean up costs.

Mr Viereck said along with these proposed laws, the Government needs to invest in research into the mental health factors that underline the issue.

An image of the hoarding taken from public land. Photo: Supplied.

“This is an area that is still relatively new in terms of research,” Mr Viereck said. “So we don’t necessarily know all about it yet. There is also no funding in this area at the moment.

“I would certainly like to see more powers matched by more support for people to actually address their hoarding behaviour. If you don’t address the behaviour, the problem will just come back.”

Senior manager of mental health and wellbeing at Woden Community Service, Pam Boyer, said she is very concerned about the Canberra Liberals’ proposed legislative changes.

“We need to make sure these people are assisted and not punished,” Ms Boyer said. “At the basis of hoarding behaviour, there is grief, loss and trauma and other underlying mental illnesses.

“We are concerned about this approach because we feel that the things that need to be in place to assist people and to get real change are not actually there.”

Mr Jetter agreed, saying a combination of support and financial repercussions should be the solution.

“I appreciate the fact that it might be a mental health issue, but the mental health of the residents around him are being impacted,” he said. “Taking it away is a good first step and then maybe going in there and counselling [them] to get some help.”


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31 Responses to
Proposed hoarding laws not addressing psychological concerns, health advocates say
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5:21 am 16 Aug 19

Judging instead of helping. Typical.

3:03 pm 15 Aug 19

So..the approach here is to fine someone for being mentally ill?? Seriously??

2:20 pm 15 Aug 19

At the moment, nothing is being done. Surely any step in the right direction is a good one?

Fergus 11:39 am 15 Aug 19

Alistair Coe read an email from a concerned neighbour of a hoarder yesterday when he tabled the new bill in the Legislative Assembly “We wonder if this distressing issue would continue for quite so long if it was occurring in a house adjunct to a Canberra public landmark or even an MLA’s residence”. Food for thought!

11:21 am 15 Aug 19

How about the government give the pensioners free use to take their rubbish to the tip and not everyone can afford to pay to dump their rubbish .

Pandy 9:31 am 15 Aug 19

Living next to that garbage heap, my mental health would be severely impacted. The nature strip is being blocked and is a hazard. At least clean that part up.

Support? Later

9:22 am 15 Aug 19

Do the Liberals also propose to enforce the Public Unleased Land Act 2013 and stop people using the nature strip in front of their house as a car park, car storage, car dump, storage facility, hard waste repository? The current government seems disinterested in enforcing a law it had enacted.

Rollersk8r 7:29 am 15 Aug 19

Typical Canberra. My neighbour has at least 25 cars on his property and surrounding areas of the street. The cars are damaged, unregistered, left with their windows down and filled with random junk. Every six months I contact the City Rangers to see if at least some of the cars can be removed. And effectively, no, the guy has mental health issues. For years I’ve had to live in the midst of a car junkyard – so what about my mental health?

6:43 am 15 Aug 19

“If an ongoing order is issued, clearing the property must be completed within five working days, while the owner or tenant will have to pay twice the expected value of clean up costs.”

I can see that a the worlds strongest deterrent.

6:36 am 15 Aug 19

Jeanette Shepherd be careful 😂😘

5:52 am 15 Aug 19

And we can all be thankful we dont have to live beside it. I totally understand the neighbours' frustration.

12:03 am 15 Aug 19

I hope they come and chat to this bloke living within 100m of my house and 500m of Gowrie Primary.

    8:32 am 15 Aug 19

    Michael Aichholzer

    Then there is this one in Kaleen. Drove past it not long ago. It's a disgrace.

    11:18 am 15 Aug 19

    Michael Aichholzer looks like he has his own wreakers with all them cars

    11:54 am 15 Aug 19

    Jeff Church We have a similar unkempt property in Oxley!!! I hope the occupants read this posting and clean up👌👌👌

11:53 pm 14 Aug 19

Hand out massive fines and watch those "mental health issues" quickly disappear 😏

    11:49 am 15 Aug 19

    Greg Peterson my grandfather was one of those people who couldn't throw anything away.. He died in the war holding a grenade...

    10:44 pm 15 Aug 19

    Nick Thirgood I have watched that happen over the last 8 years, fines don't make a difference particularly when the "offender" can't afford to pay.

    It ultimately cost them the well over $200k which obviously they won't and can't pay unless they sell their property, which means they'll now rely on public housing.

    The mental issue needs to be addressed for everyone's benefit.

11:36 pm 14 Aug 19

Of course it can be a mental health issue, but it can also be that some people are just pigs.

11:34 pm 14 Aug 19

There can be mental health issues involved with hoarding, but one thing not mentioned here is the mental health issues this might be causing the neighbours too. Their mental health, affected by their neighbours hoarding, needs to be considered too.

Mike of Canberra 10:41 pm 14 Aug 19

For an allegedly intelligent, well-educated community, Canberrans have a curious habit of being diverted to the nearest blind alley or foxhole when it comes to analysing and addressing important issues. The fact is that filthy properties are a hazard to the surrounding community due to the vermin and other hazards they bring to neighbouring residents. A very high proportion of such cases has little to do with the psychology of hoarding and a lot to do with sheer laziness. These are the properties where the grass is never mown, rubbish is strewn around the yard and the surrounding neighbourhoods gradually become no-go zones.

A very high proportion of such properties, but not all, fall within the ACT Government’s own area of responsibility, ie public housing in one form or another. Where is the effort by the Government to clean up its own mess? Not apparent to me, that’s for sure. And if one component of the problem is hoarding and this is a mental health issue, surely this is known to the ACT Government as the landlord. Where, therefore, are its initiatives to address not only hoarding but all instances of laziness and slovenliness in its own properties, if not more broadly?

The fact is that such measures are nowhere in sight. The Liberals at the very least have made a start in seeking to address what are pretty serious urban problems in some areas at least. Maybe they need to do more work. What none of us needs is for head-in-the-sand Canberrans to grasp at the latest red herring when a serious issue comes to light.

9:18 pm 14 Aug 19

Doesn't surprise me that the libs don't know how to use compassion to address such issues.

8:56 pm 14 Aug 19

Totally agree that hoarding is a safety issue, but let’s treat it as a mental health condition, not as something we can just impose penalties on and ‘fix’.

8:40 pm 14 Aug 19

There can be severe psychological issues behind hoarding habits. These issues need to be dealt with slowly and with respect so that the shock of forced clean ups don't cause sufferers to keep doing it.

    9:41 am 15 Aug 19

    Sounds great great Carole, but how slowly? Years? Because these problems have already caused serious issues for the neighbours around them FOR YEARS! For instance, their property values have dropped MORE than the cost to clean up the mess. They've been forced to live next to a garbage tip for years. The smell. The vermin (and associated snakes that come with vermin). If you're going to talk about respect and the shock that can be caused by cleaning up, put yourself in the poor people affected nearby. I bet if you added up all the lack of respect and shock they've already suffered already, you would see the ledger well and truly in their favour. One person with mental health issues shouldn't be allowed to affect many others for years with their poor behaviour. It's not fair. Fair warning, followed by appropriate support prior to the "big day", then WHAM... DO IT!

    7:55 pm 15 Aug 19

    I can understand your concerns Chris and they are valid. Unfortunately the consequences for the hoarders who are forced to 'clean-up' is akin to someone imbalanced being forced to go cold turkey off their medication. The lack of financial support in our community for mental health sufferers is obviously not enough to help hoarders on a regular basis. Often they live alone and stay inside and also suffer with anxiety. There doesn't seem to be a fair, easy answer that works for all parties.

7:26 pm 14 Aug 19

I agree that mental health programs would be part of the answer.

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