Although housekeeping practices are typically a private matter, extreme clutter can become a social problem when it represents a serious potential harm. Residents may be at risk due to fire hazards, inaccessible exits, or clutter avalanches. In higher density communities, neighbours may also be at risk, as fire or pests can spread quickly from one unit to another. Because of the complexity of responding to various issues raised by hoarding, many communities have organized coalitions of relevant agencies to coordinate their efforts.
Responsible authorities such as fire safety officers or housing providers must take action to address risks related to hoarding, but there are no easy answers. Residents are frequently unable or unwilling to comply to simple clean-up orders. Because of the complex social problems raised by hoarding, many communities have organized coalitions of relevant code enforcement and social services agencies to coordinate their efforts, but no research has documented what they do. What steps are taken to preserve tenancy? What happens to individuals who are displaced? How is their experience of home affected by the interventions? To what degree do these interventions result in desired outcomes for the community or individual? How do workers from multiple agencies work together to provide appropriate supports? The serious violation of individual rights involved in some of these interventions necessitates research about the process and outcomes.
This 5-year project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, mobilizes the expertise of community coalitions to study outcomes of their various interventions for hoarding. The research takes a socio-psychological perspective to gather information on outcomes of interest to all stakeholders: residents, their families, property owners, community agencies, and municipalities. Project I involves an in-depth case study of Beacon Communities, a large affordable housing provider that has recently developed and implemented a hoarding policy and intervention protocol designed to maintain safety and maintenance standards while preserving tenancy where possible. Project II will collect longitudinal data on interventions and outcomes in collaboration with the Hoarding Action Response Team based in Vancouver. Our ongoing partnership with this team provides the basis for a study of interventions the team undertakes and outcomes it achieves. In Project III, we will synthesize results from these two studies of private and public interventions and collaboratively develop policy implications, best practices recommendations, and training tools for other communities and housing providers.