Funds to help hoarders
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A local organization that assists people with hoarding and cluttering issues is set to receive grant funding to help it determine how to best serve clients, many of who are LGBT.
The Mental Health Association of San Francisco offers support groups and other services to people who struggle with the issue. All services are free.
The association is partnering with UCSF, which is set to receive an estimated $2 million in grant funding over three years from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C. The Mental Health Association's part of the funding will be about $200,000 a year, although the details are still being worked out.
The funds are meant to study the efficacy of peer-led treatment groups compared with therapist-led groups.
Julian Plumadore, 43, a community advocate with the association, said data already show the peer-led groups are "slightly more effective."
"The peers identify with having these issues," said Plumadore, who identifies as queer.
Describing how one may recognize hoarding, Plumadore said, "Usually" the accumulation of possessions has begun to affect someone's quality of life and is keeping them from using their home for its intended purposes. Someone may be unable to sleep in their bed, not have access to their bathroom, or be prevented from using their stove.
The problem often comes up when someone experiences "a life-altering event" such as a health crisis or losing a partner, said Plumadore.
He estimated 100 people are involved with his association's hoarding groups, and he said interest is growing, which he attributes to outreach, word-of-mouth, and other factors.
The organization collects demographic information on participants, and 40 percent of the people it works with identify as LGBT. Gay men who are 55 and older and living with HIV make up "a significant portion" of LGBT participants, said Plumadore.
This population may be strongly represented among hoarders because of diminished support systems, and being diagnosed with HIV can be "a catastrophic health crisis," among other factors, he said.
Also, Plumadore said, "A lot of folks have ended up being the recipients of the belongings of everyone around them who's passed away," including family members and partners.
"A lot of people in general have significant difficulty discarding the belongings of loved ones," he said. Items can include pictures, furniture, and boxes of clothing.
Peer response team members may go to an individual's home to help strategize how to cut down on clutter, but they don't physically move things. People often meet up with "clutter buddies" and help with each other's homes.
Plumadore, who's been doing this work professionally for more than two years, has dealt with hoarding and cluttering personally. He said there's "absolutely hope" for people who struggle.
"I could invite you over to my home today and you would never ever know I struggled with this," said Plumadore, who lives in Oakland.
He also said he and others who deal with the problem "hate" the word "hoarder."
"We're trying to get away from the terms 'hoarding' and 'hoarders,'" because they're virtually the only mental health diagnoses that carry "the weight of moral condemnation," he said.
"They imply someone is greedy or grasping, and that's not the case at all," said Plumadore. People aren't sure what term to use instead, he said, and many continue "to use the word hoarding because that's the official diagnosis" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V
Hoarding is related to acquiring items while cluttering is connected with the difficulty in discarding them, said Plumadore.
He said hoarding is "not necessarily correlated with the holidays specifically, but this time of year can sure be a tough time for folks," and the holidays can "trigger" people to acquire more belongings. They may buy gifts to give to others, but whether those items actually make it to the people for whom they were intended, "that's another story."
With the grant funding, the Mental Health Association will also establish support groups in Alameda and San Mateo counties.
Michael Gause, the association's deputy director, said the funding is significant in part because "Some of these services aren't as available in other counties," and providing the free support for three years to people in those areas "is obviously a big deal."
A spokeswoman for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute couldn't confirm details of the grant. Spokespeople at UCSF couldn't immediately confirm information about the grant funding.
Gause said his organization's budget is "roughly" $2.5 million. The group also receives funding from the San Francisco Public Health Department, among other sources.
For more information, visit http://www.mentalhealthsf.org.