July 14. 2018 8:10PM

Help for hoarders: Where Granite Staters can get assistance

By ROBERTA BAKER
New Hampshire Union Leader


Sarah Lopez, left, and Robin Felch of Tailored Transitions in Meredith help senior Dave deSousa sort through clutter in his garage. (COURTESY)

Initiatives to combat hoarding vary across the state. In Portsmouth, a community care team of social service agencies, mental health workers, visiting nurses and emergency responders tries to identify unhealthy situations and connect individuals, including hoarders, to help.

In Manchester, an anti-hoarding task force started several years ago has led to increased communication and a coordinated response among police, firefighters, ambulance services, visiting nurses, Easterseals, social workers, public health officials, building inspectors and senior housing managers who spot dangerous levels of clutter.

"We take a multifaceted approach," says Karen Sutkus, environmental heath specialist for Manchester's health department.

In Meredith, a two-woman team consisting of a social worker and recreational therapist, Tailored Transitions, helps seniors in the Lakes Region and beyond sort through items to keep, donate, sell or discard as they transition to smaller spaces or assisted living, or need help paring down at home.

In Lebanon, the Buried in Treasures program offered through the Aging Resource Center at DHMC offers group therapy and guidance in the form of a 16-week workshop for seniors and anyone struggling to climb out from under clutter, including counters piled with paper, overflowing closets, boxes that cramp or tower over living spaces and porches that are havens for broken chairs and non-working appliances. The program is poised to become a model for others in the state, as graduates train to become peer leaders of workshops in their own communities.

On the front lines is REAP, a free, short-term assistance program for older Granite Staters at the state's 10 community mental health centers, which helps identify vulnerable individuals and connect them to long-term support. The state's Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services investigates reports of seniors living in unhealthy conditions, including catastrophic levels of clutter, and refers to them to appropriate resources, occasionally providing funds to resolve imminent health dangers. The Choices for Independence program, accessed through REAP and ServiceLink, provides resources for seniors who can live safely at home with extra support.

Sutkus at Manchester's health department advises private individuals who notice anyone living in unhealthy or dangerously cluttered conditions to contact their town or city health officials or the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services directly. The solutions for seniors may not be obvious or immediate, she says.

People who hoard things "have a hard time letting go of a newspaper because there may be an article that could save someone's life," says Lakin at BEAS. "Sometimes, all we can say is, 'Can we just agree to clear the area around the stove so all these papers don't go up in flames?' It's not necessarily bringing about a real big change, but it's ideally resulting in a safer place."