Recently I had a friend tell me about a frustrating situation at her church. A family in her congregation has been reported to child welfare services for living in a filthy, garbage-strewn house. The parents asked for help from her church with cleaning up, or their three children were going to be put in foster care. My client, along with her pastor and others from her Christian congregation, did a three day intensive clean up. The children were estatic, especially the oldest child, an 11 year old girl who marveled that she could sleep in her bed and for the first time since she could remember, she could get into her bedroom closet. It sounded like a tragic, emotional service project to me.

My friend asked if I had ever been involved in anything like that with my church. I told her yes, I had. She asked if it ever works, do the adults really make permanent change or is their house just going to get junked up again? She was looking for reassurance that her and her fellow church members efforts weren’t for naught, and her biggest fear was that they would have to keep going back and recleaning the house. She wondered what the point of doing all that work was, if in the end it would just be garbage-strewn again. Maybe it would be better if the kids were taken away, she mused. At least then they would be safe from living in a rat, cockroach and lice infested house.

I didn’t disagree with her thoughts. In my experience with hoarder-types in our church, it is a chronic mental health problem that isn’t going to go away with taking out the trash. With the advent of reality tv, there are two shows that I know of that are specifically about hoarding. I think it is great that people are able to see this illness for the crippling disease that it is. The problem is, society hasn’t yet caught up with the solution to hoarding, other than the charitable acts of churches who regularly do the heavy lifting of moving tons of garbage to save a family from themselves.

In every ward I’ve lived in where hoarding is a problem, we would go in and clean as requested, usually in response to a complaint from the city health department or from the division of child services who were threatening to remove children from the home. I haven’t seen any ward come up with a way to deal with this problem that results in permanent change. Have you?