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Volunteers come out in force to tackle impossible task
During the past several months, an elderly Port Orchard woman has been sleeping in her car. Not because she’s homeless, but because she is unable to get inside her home because of a mental disorder — hoarding.
For the past two Saturdays, local volunteers have rallied together in an effort to get the woman back inside her home.
But last Saturday, more than 80 volunteers — men, women and children — found the task was just too overwhelming.
Volunteers from the Naval Hospital Bremerton, USS John C. Stennis and Walmart, along with several Port Orchard police officers and their friends may have been unable to get the woman back into her home, but they cleaned up her backyard on Saturday and filled up two 90-foot containers with trash and debris.
“It may have been disheartening, but as long as we had progress, then we did our job,” Port Orchard police officer Bill Schabily said. “Anything is better than nothing.”
There were about 50 volunteers from the Naval Hospital Bremerton and 20 from the USS John C. Stennis.
“We got someone in need and they need our help,” said a volunteer from the Naval Hospital Bremerton. “The Navy has been around here a long time and the community supports us. We wanted to make sure we return the favor.”
According to Port Orchard Police Sgt. Donna Main, the woman had been sleeping and living in her car for several months.
Main discovered the woman’s situation several weeks ago after Adult Protective Service was called to check on the woman.
“We finally located her living in her car because her home is full of debris,” Main said. “It’s amazing to see how much stuff someone can put into a house.”
Main said the woman was taking care of her mother for about 10 years and after her mother died her life went “downhill and out of control.”
“There is just clothes and stuff everywhere,” Main said. “I don’t know how long she’s been out of her house, but long enough to fill up two cars.”
Main said that the problem was too big for the woman.
“I can’t — as one person — do anything for her other than guide her,” she said.
Main said the home was built in the 1920s and the 73-year-old woman has lived in the Port Orchard her entire life.
Schabily said he went to the home for a welfare check several months ago after a family friend reported they haven’t seen the woman for several days.
He had to break out a window to enter the home. She wasn’t in the home, but was later located in a nursing home for medical treatment.
Schabily said he — along with Main and other officers — have patrolled the home ever since because they were concerned about the woman’s well-being.
“It’s a shame that a citizen who has been living here most of her life and through no fault of her own, is sleeping in her car,” Schabily said. “That could have been my mother out there.”
Schabily said Main approached him about the situation.
“Donna asked me if I could help out,” said Schabily, a retired master chief in the Navy.
Schabily said he contacted a friend — Tom Countryman, master chief hospital corpsman at Naval Hospital Bremerton — for about 50 volunteers.
“We need to do something as a community, not as a police department,” Schabily told Countryman.
He said Navy personnel spend a lot of time protecting our country, but they also do community relations.
On Nov. 9, about 40 volunteers spent more than eight hours clearing and cleaning up the front yard. Schabily said Leo’s Towing came to the home and dropped off a small excavator to assist with the cleanup, along with moving two cars filled with debris.
“They probably saved us 10 hours of work,” Schabily said. “He was there for about three hours and filled up a 30-yard garbage container.”
Lloyd Wilson of Premier Rental also helped by giving the volunteers a discounted rate on equipment rentals, such as weed trimmers.
“All we have to do is when we see a problem as a community, we need to address it as a community,” Schabily said. “We should not sit there and think the problem is going away. Because it’s not going away.”
Main praised the work of Walmart’s loss prevention staff who volunteered on both Saturdays. She said the group was a huge help in assisting with cleaning up the woman’s front yard on Nov. 9.
“We as officers are at Walmart a lot and we have a great relationship with their loss prevention staff,” Main said. “They are an awesome group to work with. They are more than just calling in that someone is stealing, but they want to get involved with community stuff.”
Main added without the community, Walmart wouldn’t be in Port Orchard.
“Some of the Walmart volunteers came to help us on their day off, while others came before work to help us,” she said.
Kathy Woodside, code enforcement officer for Port Orchard, said she is concerned that the elderly woman is displaced.
“The county health district is trying to help us find her a temporary place to stay,” Woodside said.
She said the city and the health district agreed that conditions at the home were “too contaminated” for volunteers to enter the home, clean it out and make it livable.
“It can still be done with volunteers, but it is going to take a group that understands what they are getting into and to be fully protected,” Woodside said. “The health district is willing to help supply protection and mask.”
Woodside said she will discuss the issue with the volunteers to see if they want to pursue the cleanup task.
“The volunteers have done such a magnificent job and put out such a good effort,” Woodside said.
Woodside said the woman was cited in the past for solid debris in the front yard, water in containers, cars filled with debris and garbage, most recently in the spring.
“Since the woman has been sleeping in her car, we had to move forward,” Woodside said.
Kitsap County Health District personnel were at the home Saturday to provide guidance for the volunteers.
“We were there to provide expertise and some personal protective equipment,” said Jan Brower, solid and hazard waste program manager for the health district. “We looked at the situation and it became evident it was more of a project that we would recommend volunteers getting involved in because of the sanitary conditions.”
Brower said the district recommended shutting down the inside of the home because of the sanitary conditions and that the city will have to conduct a dangerous home evaluation.
“We provided the city with our assessment of the conditions of the property,” Brower said.
WHAT IS HOARDING?
According to ADAA (Anxiety and depression Association of America, hoarding is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. The behavior usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and family members.
For those who hoard, the quantity of their collected items sets them apart from other people. Commonly hoarded items may be newspapers, magazines, paper and plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food and clothing.
Hoarding can be related to compulsive buying (such as never passing up a bargain), the compulsive acquisition of free items (such as collecting fliers), or the compulsive search for perfect or unique items (which may not appear to others as unique, such as an old container).
People hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future. Or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or too big a bargain to throw away. They may also consider an item a reminder that will jog their memory, thinking that without it they won’t remember an important person or event. Or because they can’t decide where something belongs, it’s better just to keep it.