Questions abound after dead hoarder found buried in debris

February 9, 2016 by

747d30713f3e28d183ec6deda6482962As reported by a CBC online article last week, investigators are trying to determine how a man wound up dead and buried under several feet of hoarded debris inside his downtown Vancouver home.  This case represents a sad ending to a life when the person suffers from unresolved Hoarding Disorder. According to noted Canadian hoarding specialist, Elaine Birchall, “Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon. Hoarding does not respect any culture, any age, any educational background, or financial status. And if left untreated, as in the case of the Vancouver man last week, hoarding puts the person at great personal risk, as well as creating a community health and safety hazard.”

In the article, Battalion Chief Terry Nikolai with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services echoes the hazards, noting that “hoarding behaviour like this poses serious risks — his crew had to use extreme caution, fully decontaminating after the call — and neighbours are put at risk as well. There's always a fire hazard with the hoarding, so that's always a concern. There's so much debris in that room, it's at least three feet high, in some places probably higher, maybe up to four or five feet high in other areas."

"Just a stray cigarette butt or something could cause a huge problem," said Nikolai. "There's neighbours that are right next door and there's probably 20 or more suites in that building."

Is it possible to help the growing numbers of people who suffer from hoarding disorder in North America and around the world? Based on her 14 years of experience in this area, Birchall explains, “It is very complicated to support and intervene in this type of situation. One has to identify the reasons that the person created the hoard in the first place.”

“As a first step, early identification and intervention in therapy by a hoarding-informed mental health professional can help people to change their relationship to the “things” in their life. This leads to a healthier balance with the other aspects of their lives and their relationships with loved ones."

“The second thing that is needed is to clean up the property using best practices intervention strategies. These strategies mean working with people at their own pace, while respecting the person’s priorities and attachment to the “things”.

Birchall firmly believes that it is possible for people to take back their lives when their things are taking over. For helpful resources on the subject of hoarding, and more information about Birchall and her work, see