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Springfield Collaborative Addresses the Dangers of Hoarding

Theresa Bettmann

The Community Partnership of the Ozarks and the Springfield Fire Department have unveiled a new website resource and PSA as part of the Safe and Sanitary Homes Collaborative.  The awareness campaign provides resources to the increasing number of families affected by the growing problem of compulsive hoarding.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has more.

Founded in 2013, the Safe and Sanitary Homes Collaborative, or SSH, was created in response to the alarming growth rate of safety issues related to hoarding and severe squalor.  Cara Erwin with the Springfield Fire Department is chair of the initiative, which became a CPO Collaborative in May.

“In recent years firefighters have seen a dramatic increase in the number of fires caused by hoarding.  Now while anecdotal, some of Springfield’s most experienced captains estimate that as many as 30 percent of the homes they visit every day show signs of severe squalor or hoarding. So it is a very serious problem right here in Springfield,” Erwin explains.

Fires resulting from hoarding situations burn hotter and faster, explains Erwin, making it more difficult for rescue workers to get in and victims to get out. 

As part of the awareness campaign, the SSH launched a website providing education and resources for those who know someone who may be struggling or are themselves. While there are current enforcement measures building developers can take in extreme uninhabitable cases, Erwin explains that the goal is to help identify problems early before they get out of control and dangerous.  

“I used two different terms.  I said hoarding and I said severe squalor.  And the reason why is because we have so many homes in Springfield that the homeowners don’t fit the category of clinical hoarding or hoarding disorder.  They just maybe just face socioeconomic issues where maybe they were not able to afford trash service for a few months. One thing led to another and trash piles started to pile up and now they cannot get out of their house.   Those people may be able to benefit just from some referrals to funding sources to help them clean up,” Erwin says.

Currently, there are six active cases and Erwin says they expect an increase with this campaign.

Those who have never experienced hoarding may not understand the impact it has on the family and community.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding disorder is defined by the difficulty or distress in discarding items resulting in mass accumulation.  This can lead to excessive clutter where it becomes a safety issue, or even death in some cases. 

“If you study hoarding you’ll find that enforcement doesn’t solve the problem.  It fixes it in the short term, it gets them out of that apartment building [or home], but then they’re going to go start the problem somewhere else.  So our goal is to prevent it from happening again.  And if we can get them mental health, it find the root of the problem and teach them how to live a more organized and safe life, then we can prevent it from continuing in other locations,” says Erwin.

SSH received $2,000 from the O’Reilly Family Foundation to help with its mission.  In addition to the fire department and CPO, SSH members includes representatives from Springfield Environmental Services, Springfield Building and Development Services, Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Care to Learn, SPS, Missouri Children’s Division, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Burrell Behavioral Health, Council of Churches and the Wooten Company. 

Theresa received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Missouri State University, as well as her Master's degree in Social Work at MSU. Theresa enjoys writing, drawing, reading, music, working with animals, and most of all spending time with her family. She wishes to continue to use her experiences, combined with her pursuit of education, to foster a sense of empowerment and social awareness in the community. Theresa loves working with KSMU and attributes her passion for NPR, and love of learning, to her father.