- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

LOWELL, Ind. (AP) - Dressed in head to toe white Tyvek coveralls, Adam Marimen set a bucket of sloshing liquid on the driveway.

“I have no idea what the heck that is,” he warned. “Don’t put your fingers in there.”

Marimen, project manager at Steri-Clean Indiana, was part of a crew of workers and volunteers tasked last week with cleaning a Gary home affected by a hoarding situation.

Lowell-based Steri-Clean Indiana, which also serves Illinois, is a franchise of a national company founded by expert cleaner Cory Chalmers, a frequent face on the cable TV show “Hoarders.”

They clear hoarded homes and clean crime scenes and bloody messes.

It’s the company a Louisiana woman found when she searched online for help cleaning her mother’s Gary home after she had a stroke.

“For years, I had been wanting to get help for my mom,” she said. “But one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to love and respect people where they are.”

The woman, who asked that she and her mother not be identified, said the house was organized and clean in her childhood.

It grew messy in her high school years, and in the last dozen or so years, it snowballed.

Halls and rooms are jammed with cardboard boxes, knickknacks, bags, light bulbs, blankets and dishes. A stale smell lingers in the kitchen.

“She’s been wanting the help,” the woman told The Times in Munster (https://bit.ly/12ISlLC ). “I think she was just afraid and embarrassed and ashamed to ask for it. Unfortunately, Mom had a stroke here in the home. Once she went into the hospital, I knew. Then I said, ‘This is the time to reach out.’”

The woman toured the home with Gary Hofer, who co-owns the business with lifelong friend Tony Moser. Both grew up in Calumet Township.

When the crew arrived last week, they found a side door kicked in, a car missing from the driveway and a burst pipe raining water down on part of the house. The woman contacted police.

Workers, who had cleared the backyard and driveway last month, found the inside littered with debris from the basement to the roof. The top floor was scorched by a fire that the owner doused herself because she was too embarrassed to call the fire department.

Moser classified the home as a Level V hoarding situation - the worst level -because the broken pipe poured water over everything, creating a possible biohazard.

Workers wore chemical- and fluid-resistant coveralls, as well as masks, for protection.

Items were removed one at a time and sorted into piles for garbage, donation and keeping. Her daughter had the final say.

“No matter what, this is still her stuff,” she said. “Whether I like it or not. Even with her laying in a bed, I still want to honor her because I love her.”

Workers flipped through every page of the books they removed.

“We always look through books to make sure there’s no money or documents,” Hofer said. “People hide bonds and stuff in them.”

Statistics show close to 3 million people are hoarders in the United States, said Stacy Williams, a life coach who has a background in psychology.

“A lot of people who hoard, you would never suspect it from the outside,” she said.

Many hoarders are depressed or are struggling through grief and loss, trying to replace that feeling with something else, Williams said.

Williams, of Cedar Lake, has worked with hoarders in the Midwest for years. She recently met Hofer and Moser and has started working with their clients upon request.

“I support them in changing their view of the things they’ve collected,” she said. “I’m hands-on. I discuss the meaning of every item.”

Follow-up is critical, and setting goals and establishing a safety net are necessary. Williams sees long-term success with clients, but some revert.

One client was a paramedic and mother.

“When I went into her home, she had three years of dirty diapers in her living room,” Williams said.

The woman was worried she wouldn’t have another child, a fear that manifested in her keeping the diapers. That was nine years ago, and the woman now maintains an immaculate home, Williams said.

“If you’re sitting there thinking you need help, it’s time,” Williams said. “Your new life awaits you.”

Working with hoarders is more than just cleaning their house. The mental aspect must be addressed, Chalmers said.

Well-meaning family and friends sometimes get “brutal” with the cleanup effort, Hofer said.

“We have people say, ‘We’re throwing it away, no matter what they say,’” he said. “You can’t do that. What happens when you do that is it puts them into a depression and they shut themselves off from life or it gets worse. You go in and clean someone’s house who didn’t want it done, and it’s going to be a mess.”

The crew Thursday included mother-daughter volunteers Tammy and Linda Schrader, who enjoy cleaning and are fans of the show “Hoarders.”

“I’ve seen the show on TV, and I’m like, oh my God, I would give anything to have at one of those houses,” Tammy Schrader said. “It’s just fascinating. You see it on TV, and then you walk in and it’s a shock. Part of it is curiosity. The other part is you know what these people really need help.”

They weren’t sure what they would encounter Thursday.

“We’ve been talking among ourselves: What do you think there is to do? Are we going to be doing the nitty-gritty work? Are we going to be doing heavy lifting?” Linda Schrader said, adding that she would like to do crime-scene cleanup for a living.


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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