Do you know a neighbour, a loved one or a tenant whose home is dangerously cluttered? You don’t know how to help and you’ve run out of options?
Here is some information that can help you.
What are unhealthy living conditions?
Unhealthy living conditions are created when people allow an excessive amount of stuff or trash to accumulate in their homes, resulting in unsanitary conditions. This behaviour is harmful to the occupants’ health and safety.
To varying degrees, these conditions can also endanger the immediate neighbours, visitors, and any workers or volunteers who need to visit the home, often to help with the clean-up effort.
What stands out about these people’s homes?
These people are hoarders who even hold on to used items, such as bottles, cans, newspapers, cleaning products, etc. The clutter invades almost all areas of the home. You may find rotten food, trash, an excessive number of pets (cats, dogs, birds, reptiles) and their feces, etc.
Depending on what the person is hoarding, the home may be filthy and smell bad, which can attract insects and vermin. Bathrooms may not be in proper working order, and the occupant will often lack personal hygiene.
Who can this affect?
Cases of unhealthy living conditions are more common in seniors, although younger people can also be affected. This situation may be related to various mental illnesses or behavioural disorders, such as schizophrenia, mental disability, major depression, dementia, generalized anxiety, obsessive‑compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.
Some people will develop this type of behaviour in the wake of a one-time event, such as an emotional trauma, a retirement, or a spouse’s death.
What are some characteristic behaviours of these people?
Typically, the person will vehemently deny that they have a problem. They don’t think they need help and they especially don’t want to change anything about their life. They will come up with a constant stream of excuses to justify their situation, only to end up withdrawing from society.
Usually, these people are a source of anxiety and concern for neighbours and loved ones. Family and friends are often on the receiving end of their anger and suspicions. These environments are also at higher risk of fires, foul smells, or infestations of bed bugs or cockroaches, not to mention that they’re a breeding ground for all kinds of germs.
Eventually, the situation deteriorates to the point that it becomes overwhelming for both the person living there and their relatives.
What can I do to help?
You need to report these living conditions to the competent authorities, who will be able to offer help and support.
The key to dealing with this type of situation is to create a relationship of trust with the person. Once established, this bond will make the rest of the process easier.
Who should I call to report the situation?
Municipal services: You can report the situation to your city’s urban planning or public health department. Some municipalities will respond to this type of complaint by inspecting the home. If there is a clear fire or safety risk, the fire department could also step in.
CLSC: You can report the situation to the receptionist, who will pass the message on to the department best able to assess and support the person.
Community organizations: These organizations are part of the community, where they work closely with various partners, including the municipality and the CLSC. They may also have established relationships with the people affected. These include organizations such as Meals on Wheels, the Centre d’action bénévole (Volunteer Bureau), and various charities.
To report an emergency, a case of serious and imminent danger, or a person who presents a threat to themselves or to others, dial 911.
Workers are required to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. Confidential information may only be disclosed with the permission of the person concerned, who must sign an authorization form.