By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Hoarding, the compulsive acquisition and accumulation of items, often with no apparent value, is more than just the name of a disorder to the Human Services Coalition of the Marlborough Community Development Corporation; it is an ongoing problem within the community, one that was mentioned each month, when the group met.
“It kept coming up as an issue,” said Kerry Higgins, a social worker with a background in mental health, and the driving force behind the formation of the Marlborough/Hudson Hoarding Task Force, known as ClearPath. The all-volunteer group, which operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Marlborough Community Development Corporation, had its first official meeting in February 2014 and, since then, has thrown itself wholeheartedly into addressing the problem of hoarding. Higgins explained their “four-pronged approach” – through community education, peer support groups, coaching, and Task Force meetings with local agencies and officials.
ClearPath has already presented several programs to foster education and understanding. One of these, hosted by the Marlborough Senior Center, shared a film called “My Mother’s Garden,” a documentary by the daughter of a hoarder, which gives insight into the complexities of the disorder and its impact on the family members. Along those lines, ClearPath is hoping to organize future presentations which will focus on how to help those who love a hoarder.
“Basically, the goals [of the presentation] would be [to] validate [the feelings of the family member], lower their expectations for changing someone else’s behavior and looking at ‘harm reduction’ rather than changing someone else’s way of being, [and] talk about resources [available],” Higgins said.
Hands-on assistance, working with hoarders to sort and discard in their own homes, is another large part of what ClearPath does. Referrals of those in need of de-cluttering help come to the group from the Health Department, Senior Center or other social service agencies. Once the referral is received, Higgins, or another ClearPath volunteer who is also a social worker, contacts the potential client and first screens his or her home for safety.
“I won’t send a team in unless I have seen the house first,” Higgins maintained.
Next, they outline what homeowner’s should expect from the sort and discard process and, if the client is willing, set up an appointment for ClearPath volunteers to come into the home.
Even if the client is willing, the de-cluttering work doesn’t always happen right away.
“A lot of people agree to have [us] come,” Higgins said, “but then they get cold feet.”
The group usually works with about two people per month, in coordination with Hudson’s Second Saturday program. Coaches (those who have received training on hoarding behaviors) and volunteers meet at Grace Baptist Church in Hudson for an initial briefing before breaking into teams of two or more and heading out. Each team spends about two hours with the individual client before reconvening at the church for a half-hour “de-briefing.”
Higgins stressed that ClearPath promotes self-management; the assistance offered by volunteers is directed by the person receiving their help.
“We ask the client what their goal is going to be,” she said. There are no “surprise” clean-outs; nothing is done without the hoarder’s knowledge or permission.
“The people we help make all the decisions during this process,” added Higgins. “We are there to encourage, support and perhaps do some of the bending and lifting if a disability is an issue.”
For more information about ClearPath, or to find out about support groups, task force meetings, or how you can help, email [email protected].