County Agencies Tackle Hoarding Issue

Warren County has developed a Hoarding Brochure to provide information to the public on this behavior and the various County agencies who may be able to assist individuals or family members on how to cope and manage the behavior and its impact.  Hoarding is the excessive collection and retention of things or animals until they interfere with day-to-day functions such as home, health, family, work and social life. Severe hoarding causes safety and health hazards. Hoarding is recognized as both a mental health issue and a public health problem. It is typically not an immediate crisis; however, at its most extreme, it presents life-safety and health issues that must be immediately addressed. Hoarding is a behavior demonstrated by a person (or persons) who acquires and fails to discard a large number of personal possessions and it can manifest itself in the excessive collection of newspapers, magazines, clothing, household trash, and animals. 


Hoarding can become so extreme that cluttered living spaces impede day-to-day activities. Those suffering from hoarding are often significantly distressed or impaired due to the conditions in which they live.  The mental health community attributes the behavior of hoarding to numerous physical or psychological causes. It may be considered a mechanism for coping, a sign or symptom of depression, or a result of aging, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mental health deterioration, substance abuse, or any number of other conditions. While difficult to treat, public awareness has brought hoarding to the forefront of the mental health profession.


As more cases of hoarding reach doctors, new approaches and treatments are helping those suffering from this disorder. Hoarding does not recognize race, gender, nationality, level of education, or a socio economic bracket. It is, however, more prevalent in older adults. 


The hoarding issue came to light with the recent fire on Locust Dale Drive that led to the death of Pauline Hockett on February 9, 2013.  According to Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico, “When emergency responders are faced with a hoarding situation such as the one in February of 2013, the access to a home is limited because there’s so much stuff inside.  Emergency personnel often waste valuable seconds when attempting to navigate through the debris in a fire incident or even a medical emergency.”


According to County Administrator Doug Stanley, “As a former Zoning Adminstrator for the County, I have been involved firsthand in the cleanup of a number of properties that would meet the definition of “hoarding.”  There are, however, many properties where the outside appearance would not give any indication of what the occupant of a home may be going through in dealing with this disorder.  We want to give a number for someone to call so that they can be put in touch with someone who can provide assistance, whether it be the person himself, a family member, a church member, a neighbor, etc.” 


Beth Reavis, Director of the Warren County Social Serivices Department stated that, “The Department of Social Services is happy to partner with other County departments to address this often difficult issue.  We will provide resources and services, to the extent allowed by policy,  to help insure safety while protecting the rights and dignity of the person or persons involved.”


Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron added that, “Everyday law enforcement comes in contact with someone in the community that would be considered a hoarder.  Without violating a person rights, we make every effort to provide information or assist them so they understand the inherent dangers to them and their family’s health and safety.”


Stanley added that, “This issue is one that is tough for an individual who has the disorder to comprehend and realize its impact on themselves, their family and the community as a whole.  We want to give them someone they can reach out to.  By bringing the various agencies together including the Department of Social Services, Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, Front Royal Police Department, Northwestern Community Services, the Town and County code enforcement officers, we hope to be able to address the issue more comprehensively.”


The County is directing anyone with concerns or issues about the hoarding behavior or about specific locations of concern to contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at (540) 635-4128.


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