County Connections - How Barnstable County is Addressing Hoarding

Regional collaboration at its best...
Erika Woods, chair of the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force (Courtesy of Barnstable County)

The Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force is a prime example of how Barnstable County fosters regional collaboration to tackle challenges and acts as a significant resource for each of our 15 towns. 

In 2010, the Mid-Cape Hoarding Task Force began as an ad hoc group of elder services and health professionals. They had been meeting to address hoarding as a community challenge. 

Members of the Task Force quickly found that people representing other areas of Cape Cod were looking to join, so they expanded to become the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force. In 2016, they officially became part of Barnstable County government, allowing for a more formalized structure.

The mission of the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force is to provide education, collaboration and support to those who are affected by clutter and hoarding.  They accomplish this by providing access to available resources and by supporting an informed response by individuals and organizations who are charged with addressing this emerging concern affecting our community. 

Many of the hoarding task forces that have sprouted up around the country in the last decade are not grant-supported.  But as an organization under the aegis of Barnstable County, the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force can leverage essential funding that provides training and materials for consultants. The Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency in Boston is currently one of those funders.

The Task Force is a collaborative effort made up mostly by police and fire personnel, animal control, health agencies, mental health professionals, individuals associated with housing, elder and senior services, home organizers, and house cleaners. Although the Task Force does not provide direct services, nor is it an enforcement authority, they do offer resources, such as connecting the individual to services that can help them understand the problem and build strategies to address it.

Erika Woods, Chair of the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force and Deputy Director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, says, “Dealing with hoarding cases is time-consuming, with a lot of different aspects that demand resources of towns when working alone. The Task Force takes some of that burden off the towns.” 

Hoarding goes beyond what most people think of as a collector, and no two hoarding cases are alike. The items could be things like collectibles, books, journals, or animals. Items can be hoarded in the house or even a car. 

People living in hoarded homes often have respiratory problems, poor self-care, and nutrition. Additional concerns may include homelessness due to eviction, social isolation, legal issues due to lost or unpaid bills, and substantial credit card debt due to compulsive buying.  

Hoarding is also a challenge for neighbors and the community. Hoarded homes are at a higher risk for fire, mold, or mildew, and can attract rodents and disease. This brings challenges to first responders who seek to save lives and property.

“Dealing with hoarding cases is complicated.” Woods says, “Simply getting rid of the clutter, or clean-outs, can be extremely traumatic for someone with a hoarding disorder. We must recognize that this is a mental illness, and there is a real inability to let go of those items.”

It’s important to remember that clean-ups may remove the items temporarily and work in the short term; however, this approach does not address the beliefs that contribute to the hoarding behavior. Accumulation will likely occur again, so the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force coordinates a support group called Buried in Treasures. The group is a facilitated, action-oriented support group based on the book Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding.  Sessions include activities such as chapter discussions, exercises from the book dealing with acquisition, discarding, and disorganization, and home practice between sessions. Having support is a critical component of success for those who struggle with hoarding.

For more information about how the Cape Cod Hoarding Task Force can help someone you know dealing with hoarding, visit hoardingcapecod.org or follow them on Facebook.


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