Community

Hoarding & Squalor

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is the persistent accumulation of and lack of ability to relinquish large numbers of objects or living animals.  It results in extreme clutter in and around premises, compromising the intended use of premises and threatens the health and safety of people concerned, animals and neighbours. 

Hoarding is a progressive and chronic condition.

What is squalor?

Squalor is an unsanitary living environment that has arisen from extreme/prolonged neglect. It poses substantial health and safety risks to people or animals residing in the affected premises as well as others in the community. 

Hoarding and squalor can exist in isolation or at the same time. The effects of hoarding can be apparent inside or outside the house or a combination of both. Commonly hoarded items include personal papers, newspapers, clothing, furniture, appliances, household rubbish, animals and hard rubbish.

The risks

Every 4 – 6 days MFB firefighters respond to a fire or other types of emergency in a residential property where hoarding and/or squalor is present.

Fire risk

  • Accumulation of possessions results in an abnormally high fuel load and greater opportunity for ignition
  • Blocked exits and narrow internal pathways impede escape for the occupant and access for firefighters
  • Non-functional gas or electricity may result in unsafe practices for cooking and heating

Fires in hoarding homes increase the risk for the occupant, their neighbours and firefighters and may increase the risk of affected people in other kinds of emergencies in their home.

MFB recommends that in the first instance, individuals or agencies assisting those affected by hoarding should:

  • Install smoke alarms and test them
  • Unblock exits
  • Widen internal pathways
  • Check utilities are connected
  • Prioritise removing clutter from around cooking area and stove tops as 39 per cent of fires in hoarding homes result from cooking
  • Ensure clutter is removed from around heaters and electrical items and discourage the use of open flame as combined these factors account for 44 per cent of fires in hoarding homes

Clutter Image Rating Scale

The Clutter Image Rating Scale (CIRS) gauges the impact of hoarding on the person with the hoarding behaviour. Levels 5 and above increase the risk of fire injury and death.

For further general information for:

  • People affected by hoarding and or squalor 
  • Family and friends of someone affected by hoarding or squalor
  • Community care, government or other agencies that work with people affected by hoarding or squalor

Please contact the Community Resilience Department, At Risk Groups Team on (03) 9665 4464 or atriskgroups@mfb.vic.gov.au.

Department of Health & Human Services; a practical resource for service providers.

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