Spurred by a high-profile hoarding incident in the Beach this past summer, the City of Toronto is hiring two full-time staff to co-ordinate the response to extreme cases.
Wearing Hazmat gear, a team of OSPCA inspectors trapped several cats and cleaned up debris at a Beech Avenue home in September after neighbours complained of a strong urine smell.
Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said several city agencies were involved, including Toronto fire inspectors who had dealt with hoarding problems at the property for more than five years.
“What we found was that some people in some departments were connecting, and others were not,” said McMahon, who brought forward the council motion to create the co-ordinating office together with Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Josh Colle. McMahon said councillors in just about every ward of the city have faced similar problems.
On Christmas Day, a man in his 60s died after a two-alarm fire broke out in his Queen Street East apartment. Fire officials said shortly afterwards that the apartment was cluttered, making it hard to find him.
“The people we are dealing with are very vulnerable,” said McMahon, adding that hoarding is not the black-and-white issue many people perceive it to be.
Felicea Nobile agrees.
Nobile co-chairs the Durham Region Hoarding Coalition, which four years ago began co-ordinating 33 city and social services agencies in Durham, ranging from bylaw officers to children’s aid, landlords to public health workers.
“With hoarding, you can’t do it all at once,” Nobile said. While evictions or forced clean-ups are necessary in cases where people are seriously at risk, she said a hard-line approach often means problems simply happens again later.
“It takes time,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard just getting in the house.”
In one case, Nobile said case workers in Durham met a person at their front door several times over a six-month period before they established trust and were invited inside to help.
“You have to work with these individuals,” Nobile said, adding that ideally, there would be dedicated mental health or social workers who can do follow-up visits. But funding such positions is difficult, she said.
James Hind, a fire inspector in London, Ontario, said funding is an issue there as well. Few agencies can do free clean-ups or provide case workers, either for lack of funds or because the person with the hoarding problem refuses help.
Hind said his job has been made easier since he began working together with a mental health worker, who can give the long-term attention needed to avoid “repeat customers.”
A 2009 study of problem hoarding in Melbourne, Australia found 70 per cent of cases involved people 50 or older, and that clothes, letters, bills, books and magazines are the most commonly hoarded items.
The study includes a survey of 48 hoarding-related fires, and found that more fire fighters and pumpers were required to put out those fires, on average, which were also more likely to spread through multiple rooms given all the combustible material.
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As someone who was a close longtime friend to the ‘man in his sixties who died in a two alarm fire on Christmas day’ I need to point out a few things. One of the first newspaper articles published regarding this fire was inaccurate. It was disgusting enough to have a wonderful funny unique individual be reduced and inpersonalized by the label “elderly hoarder” but to read that he had been badly burned ( which was completely false) just further illustrated that reporting the news is about sensationalizing events and attracting readers.
The fire fighters commented that it was difficult to get to him. Yes, no doubt, his apartment was crowded and not set up to accommodate fire gear, hoses and a crowd of firefighters. As someone who has been in his apartment hundreds of times, I’m again frustrated at how things get twisted around in order to make a point, regardless of truth. In my opinion, this tragedy was reported with such a lack of integrity and full of vague generalizations. The area where the fire started was the kitchen, he was found on his bedroom floor, which is located beside the kitchen. Speculation based on reports is that he awoke to the fire, undoubtedly panicked ( which would probably cause one to gasp and or hyperventilate)and as the coroner explained, ‘as little as two deep inhales of smoke is enough to disorient anyone’. He was dead by the time they reached him, not because he was a hoarder but because his kitchen was on fire with flames consuming all the cabinets above the stove and sink area. There was no where for the smoke to escape. If house and apartment fires that resulted in death were statistically only caused by hoarders then this whole issue would have validity but as we all know that isn’t the case. People die as a result of fire/smoke inhalation from a myriad of situations period.
A man died. His name was Jack Kwinter. He was an incredible quirky man that I loved very much and who was loved by so many people. A man who always had my back, made me laugh, drove me nuts, believed in me, supported me, nurtured me when I was down and was a true friend. One of the last times I sat with him in that kitchen, he made me toast and tea while I moaned and complained about something trivial. A lot of things have become trivial compared to the pain of losing my friend. He was my confidant, my number one fan and a huge reason that I am all the great things I am today. You cannot go wrong when you have that much love in your corner.
To make this about hoarding is simply ridiculous and very sad.
Thank you Tara for writing so eloquently, and unfortunately, in elegy of a man who was indeed a collector of great artifacts and artistic treasures, but the greatest of all these were the many treasures of the heart Jack Kwinter amassed, being so widely beloved and respected a human being. He deserves much better than being deemed faceless and problematic. I’d say that it was a tough call for any firefighter to fit into that apartment, it was designed to be ‘cozy,’ the haught curb appeal word for ‘small.’ Anyone with tons of gear would have a hard time fitting into Jack’s place. Wish he and his cat Stinky were still with us. Jack was more alive than most, and the world is a sadder place without him.
Thank you for saying that. I was so angry at the news articles. They made it seem as if he was some reclusive hoarding freakshow. He was so incredible, so alive, the funniest person Ive ever met. He was kind, crazy, unique and so full of zest. He took me under his wing when I was maybe 16. He gave me so much love and acceptance and changed my life for the better. I remember back when John Lennon died and I made this stupid comment that Yoko Ono was acting as if her grief was so much more intense than anyone elses. I thought-grief is grief and loss feels the same to everyone. Pfft. Well, I was wrong. Ive had friends die, family members, acquaintances etc and nothing has hurt me as deeply, felt as painful and gut wrenching as losing Jack.
There really are no words.
Hi Tara with the holidays approaching my thoughts turned to last years horrible xmas Im sorry for that loss I guess I was getting nostalgic because its Halloween and I think of the Roxy and everybody I miss you
Hi Steve. It’s true thoughts of the holidays now will always include Jack I wonder what he would say about that? Wish he was here to tell us.
Hi Steve, thank you for that. Ya its really hard seeing so many things that trigger my pain. The christmas lights, even snow, sounds of sirens, pretty much everything. Thanks Steve. xo
Hi Tara thank you for your very real description of Jack. He was so kind and interested in the arts community and dependable, and funny. A very loyal friend
Just today I found myself wondering what new info on the fire might be available and that’s how I came upon your description. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts
He was an amazing person. Ive never met anyone who comes close to him. I walk around all the time saying “I miss you” over and over and it sounds so simple but I cant find the words that really convey how much I love him and how much he meant to me.
I just came to this terrible news because I Googled Jack’s name the other day after reading his brother’s law firm was mentioned in the Leslie Roberts bru-haha.
From your writing, and wonderful eulogy, I think we knew him at the same time. I think I met Jack first back in 1977 or 1978. He was living on Avenue Rd. and had a little shop, The Peanut Gallery, on Bedford Road. I remember him opening the storefront at the Roxy, and attended a few Rocky Horror nights. Funny, years later I moved to a place about a block away from the Roxy.
Jack and I had some weird and wonderful times way back when. He and I chatted on the phone a couple of years ago. We did a bit of reminiscing, and he came out with that cackle of a laugh more than once.
After reading your touching tribute, I found one of the student films he acted in. I never knew he acted, when we last chatted, he was about to record an album. I’m not surprised, though. For anyone else who finds this thread, here’s a link to Heart of Perception.
He was such a nice man. Always full of energy… You will be missed