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Hoarding: How big of an issue it's believed to be locally and how far agencies that step in can go

By: Gina Benitez
EL PASO, Texas

Hoarding is officially a sickness.

It was just deemed a disease a few months ago.

Recently, it seems more and more cases have been coming to light here in El Paso.

"Hoarders are very smart, they know what they're doing," said Felix Cabrera with Adult Protective Services.

Hoarding is now a common term and something we hear about more and more.

KFOX 14 has covered several cases in the last few months.

The most recent, two weeks ago, where an 89-year-old woman was pulled from her west side home.

"Our department has responded because of tall weeds and vegetation but this is the second time it has been responded to as a hoarding case," said Victor Martinez, a code compliance supervisor with the City of El Paso.

Police told KFOX 14 the home was infested with spiders and the woman was covered in bites, so police feared for her well-being.

Hoarding cases are usually a collaborative effort handled by different area agencies.

But as a whole, there's only so much that can be done.

"Our hands are pretty much tied in certain circumstances. The outside of the house, we can address," Martinez said.

"We have done, on this map, as you see the city map, plus some of the county areas, 62 cases in the last 7 years and this is only maybe 2 percent of what's actually out there," Cabrera said.

Adult Protective Services has its own hoarding task force.

But if the homeowner is deemed mentally stable, they can refuse help.

"If they tell us leave, we have to get off the property," Cabrera said.

And the city can step in only if it's a safety hazard or breaks city code.

"Even if we were to go in and clean the property, the point is, all we're really fixing is the symptom and not the problem. Until we get some sort of mechanism in place to address these kind of issues, basically, there's not much we can do," Martinez said.

"A hoarder, believe it or not, suffers when you're taking that stuff out. They have an attachment to whatever they're having. We see it as junk, they don't," Cabrera said.



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