Urge to hoard linked to depression

19:16, May 25 2012

The Canterbury earthquakes have highlighted more cases of hoarding and squalor, agencies say.

Age Concern community nurse Kerry Howley, who this week led a forum on hoarding and squalor, said the quakes had revealed more cases of people living in cluttered, filthy conditions.

"This issue has always been around, but because of people knocking on doors and maybe because of repairs to homes and inspections, we've seen more cases."

Age Concern Canterbury had seen a case where 17 skips were needed to clear out a person's house, Howley said.

"We've seen people who have vermin infestations, people who are ashamed to open the doors of their homes, people who have rotting food all over the place, and animal hoarding is common too." She said there were no New Zealand statistics or research on this issue, and she called for agencies to work together.

Workers from the Christchurch City Council, SPCA, Red Cross, Salvation Army and Presbyterian Support were among those who attended the forum at the Mary Potter Community Centre.


Howley provided The Press with pictures from an elderly woman's Woolston house. They were taken in March and the woman died in care soon after.

"For the people who do hoard, they have a huge sense of pride in their belongings and it is really traumatic for people to have their house cleaned out sometimes," Howley said.

She presented research showing more than half of hoarders have a depressive disorder. Anxiety, attention deficit disorder and social phobia were common problems in hoarders.

SPCA Canterbury general manager Barry Helem, New Zealand fire investigator Mark Thomas and Terry Dowson, from the council's environmental health unit, also spoke.

Each showed pictures of squalid living conditions and said New Zealand needed to act on the issue.

Howley said the main issue for agencies was funding. She said discussions with the Government had "not been able to conclude whether this is a Ministry of Health or a Ministry of Social Development issue".

Representatives from several agencies would form a working group to help tackle hoarding and squalor in Canterbury, she said.

The Press