Should there be a Law to Prevent Hoarding in Toronto?

Hoarding, the act of filling your home with so much junk that the space becomes unusable, has become so widely known about due to shows such as A&E’s Hoarders. But what about when one of those stories jumps off the television screen and finds their way right next door to your home? That’s just what happened in one Toronto home, and it’s brought to light an issue that could become a very hot topic in the city.

It was five years ago when Greg McLeod and Holly Sharpe purchased their Beach area home, an area that’s known for some of the most luxurious homes in the Toronto market. At the time the only clutter indicated at their neighbour’s home was an old fridge on the porch, and a few lingering cats. Over the years, those items have accumulated to trash scattered not only on the porch (so high that said porch is now just barely visible,) and all around the lawn. Mrs. Sharpe said that she became most concerned when she saw officials entering wearing Hazmat suits.

Hoarding is a very sad disease, one that often stems from a deep emotional scar on the part of the hoarder. But while officials have been in and out of the Beach area home, nothing has been done about it. Except on the part of the Sharpe’s, who have constructed a fence six feet tall simply to avoid seeing a junkyard every time they look out their window.

Now, that could change. Toronto Public Health is currently investigating a way to bring affected city units involved – fire, public health, and social services – together so that response times can be increased, and real solutions can be reached.

Marco Vittiglio, associate director with Toronto Public Health’s environments division, says that the work on such type of a program began a year ago, but that efforts have really been ramped up in the past few months.

“It’s disparate right now, so hopefully all the resources can be known and accessed by all. And hopefully we can get to the point that everyone is at the table and dealing with the issue as soon as possible.”

But Toronto Public Health nurse Ulla Wise says that the problem is not an easy one to solve. She says that it’s not something as simple as forcing the person to clean up, because often the problem simply returns, and the person can feel shamed.

“You try to work with people because you want a positive, sustained solution. In a way it is a community thing, but to protect the person’s dignity is important,” she says. “We are as humans allowed to live at risk and make choices that are not ideal – we can smoke, we can overeat.”

Do you think Toronto needs to impose a program or new laws that protect people from their hoarding neighbour’s and more importantly, all that stuff? What do you think would help, and how should they go about doing it?