- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PEKIN, Ill. (AP) - Children peeked between the curtains of their home on the south side of Pekin recently as police stood guard so that code enforcement personnel could remove the debris that their parents had accumulated in the yard.

The children hid their little faces as best they could as they watched two police officers stand guard over the court ordered proceeding after their father became angry and was then ordered back into the home. The yard was filled with many lawn mowers, though it was plain to see that the homeowner rarely mowed the lawn or pulled the large weeds. Bikes and other material were also scattered about. There were 12 complaints filed against the property by neighbors since 2012 for junk and debris, tall grass and weeds, junk cars, and unsafe structure and an illegal business.

The city hired David Burling Excavating to clean the property and haul away the debris. A towing company was hired to tow away two vehicles.

The children are not the only victims of this hoarder’s obsession. A neighbor has lived next door to the home since 1979. He said the hoarding is a progressive problem that started with the new owner’s aunt. When she died the tradition continued.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “I think about it every day, every day, every day. It’s very, very frustrating. I’ve been going to city hall for years. I’ve got mixed feelings today. I feel some relief.”

Code Enforcement Officer David Van Dyke supervised the project. When the crews finished there they were sent to another south side home with even bigger issues. That home was surrounded by mounds of garbage and debris covered by camouflage tarps. Prior to the arrival of the crews, the owner was outside gathering pieces from the yard and scurrying inside with them. Van Dyke said that the city paid for a tow truck, two city workers and three contracted individuals to clean up the two houses. Cleaning up such messes is a cost to taxpayers.

There are two different levels of hoarding - passive and aggressive, said HOPE Chest Life Coach Counsellor Jeff Leeman. The passive hoarder is someone who collects stuff and never gets rid of it. The items continue to “mound and take up more space” as time goes on. The aggressive hoarder “is on the hunt. It’s almost like an adrenaline rush to find the next piece and get it before anyone else does. It may have some value as they collect items,” he said. Both aggressive and passive hoarding are a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

Leeman has a bachelor’s in pastoral ministries and a master’s in biblical counselling with an emphasis on psychology. He is affiliated with the HOPE Chest.

The causes of hoarding are not firmly established, said Leeman. He has seen cases in the elderly that are directly related to the Great Depression. “They just come to that point where they are not able to give up things. Being without causes them to hang onto (things),” he said. There is a 25 percent chance that the children of hoarders will develop the disorder. “Now is that because the environment is already present as they grow up and see? That question is still out there. And 2 percent of the U.S. population, or one out of 40 people, suffer from this OCD of hoarding.”

Hoarders, said Leeman, do not think about the “reality” of their situation - that it could be a fire hazard, represent an environmental health threat or even threaten the health of pets. Hoarders don’t think about how things in the home “function or don’t function. (They) just choose not to get rid of it anymore.” Rotting food and garbage are in the home many times. “There are a lot of things that are affected by the disorder. Hoarding is not just inside. It’s hard for family to come over, so there is a breakdown in socialization because not only family, but friends don’t come over. The people themselves don’t invite others over. So there’s a growing reclusiveness that goes with hoarding - not every time, but often times.”

Sometimes aggressive hoarders are “hunting for the best deal.” Many times the tags remain on items for many years after it is purchased. The collection of anything, if it’s overtaking one’s space and life, is “unhealthy,” said Leeman.

Leeman said that with help and therapy, and even a professional “intervention” agency hired by the family of the hoarder, it is still very difficult for the person with the disorder to give up the stuff. He said there may be a need for inpatient therapy because when they are in their element at home they are comfortable with it.

The city cleanup of the property may have helped neighbors there, but Leeman said a forced cleanup is a short-term remedy. The hoarder will likely start accumulating stuff again. There are a small percentage of people who would say “enough is enough” and make a change in their lives through therapy. Children of hoarders may also see the forced cleanup as a “violent” event because at times the children’s items are taken, he said.

“(A forced cleanup) gives them a fresh start and hopefully with the right help the percentage of success goes up, which is where we hang our hope, that they will seek the help that they need and they will get the help that they need and be successful in that therapy,” said Leeman.

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Source: Pekin Daily Times, https://bit.ly/1Lbmxke

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Information from: Pekin Daily Times, https://www.pekintimes.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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