Toronto Launching New Anti-Hoarding Program

The city of Toronto is set to launch a new program designed to target the safety and medical issues surrounding complusive hoarding.    The new SPIDER program, short for Specialized Interdivisional Enhanced Response, was approved by Toronto City Council after years of community activism and short-term attempts at dealing with problem hoarding cases as they arise.   Compulsive hoarding often involves accumulating enormous amounts of junk mail, newspapers, uneaten food scaps, and even animals.   The amount of material collected by hoarders can lead to cramped living space, unsanitary conditions for the hoarders and their families, and even endangerment of any animals living with them.    

While the actual number of hoarders in Toronto is unknown, studies of hoarding behaviour in U.S. college students suggest that the prevalence could be as high as five percent of the general population.    Since the extent of hoarding behaviour falls on a wide continuum, only the most extreme cases are likely to require intervention.  According to the Toronto Hoarding Coalition, the costs of cleaning up a single case of extreme hoarding can exceed half a million dollars.  In one case occurring in Davisville last November, Toronto Fire workers had to wear HAZMAT suits to enter the home and remove numerous boxes of hoarded materials.   They had been called into the home due to concerns about a possible fire hazard.    Though neighbours had been raising concerns about the house for years,  they were frustrated over the lack of action until recently.  

"This has been a problem for, I’m sure, decades,"  said City Councillor Josh Matlow who told news reporters that he had been attempting to get the city to take action until recently.  "I’ve spoken to residents who have been complaining to anyone who would listen for years and nothing’s ever been done,”     While Matlow supports the SPIDER program, the lack of a similar program at the provincial level may limit the help that will be available.  "The city of Toronto is not equipped well enough to handle these issues because it’s not just to do with the fire department getting into the house or the police being able to get into a house or municipal licensing and standards – they’re issues around mental health,” he explained. “We need reform about how the province deals with mental health case.”   

While compulsive hoarding is often linked to other diagnoses such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, it is typically classified as a separate disorder.   Since most hoarders live alone and are often isolated from the community, the problems raised by compulsive hoarding often go unrecognized for years before action can be taken.

Hiring for the SPIDER program will begin this month and a program update is expected to be presented to Toronto City Council this December.    

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