By Tom Farmer
Corporate Communications, MassHousing
MARLBOROUGH – A host of national experts on the serious disorder of hoarding drew more than 500 attendees to the daylong MassHousing Community Services Department’s annual conference on April 2.
The conference, titled “Using a Team approach to Address Hoarding,” was held at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel and Trade Center in Marlborough and was attended by housing professionals, public health and public safety officials, social workers and mental health professionals, and legal professionals.
The attendees heard presentations from national experts on hoarding including Dr. Michael Tompkins from the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, Dr. Christiana Bratiotis from the University of Nebraska Omaha, Dr. Gail Steketee, Dean of the Boston University School of Social Work, Dr. Randy O. Frost, Professor of Psychology at Smith College, Lee J. Shuer, Director of Mutual Support Services at ServiceNet, Jesse Edsell-Vetter, Hoarding Intervention Coordinator at the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, and Dr. Jordana Muroff from the BU School of Social Work.
"The fact that this conference drew an overflowing number of attendees speaks to the seriousness of hoarding and the severe impact it can have not only on people who hoard, but their families, neighbors and owners and managers of rental housing," said MassHousing Executive Director Thomas R. Gleason. "By listening to the experts it is quite clear that hoarding has multiple layers of causes and mental health issues and needs a multifaceted, community-based response to treat people who hoard."
From left, Dr. Randy Frost, Dr. Michael Thompkins and MassHousing Executive Director Tom Gleason
Dr. Tompkins gave the keynote address on how to engage with people who hoard using a "Harm Reduction model of intervention."
"The conference was outstanding in every way," said Tompkins. "The East Coast, and Massachusetts in particular, is fortunate to have so many of the leaders in the field, such as Randy Frost, Gail Steketee, Jordana Muroff, and Christiana Bratiotis. It was wonderful to participate in such a rich mix of researcher, clinician, and other professionals all dedicated to better understanding the nature of hoarding and to devise novel and effective interventions to reach and help more people who suffer with this devastating condition. The attendees in the conference arrived eager to learn and more eager to translate that learning into direct service to their clients. It is inspiring."
Tompkins said Massachusetts is leading the way in addressing the issue of hoarding and how to treat it.
"MassHousing and Massachusetts are national leaders in the effort to reach and respond in novel ways to the broad and pressing needs of people whom hoard," said Tompkins. "The attendees had a far greater understanding of hoarding than attendees at other similar conferences in the United States and this is a testament to the extraordinary work MassHousing has done in the field."
Shuer addressed the conference with his own personal struggle with hoarding that jeopardized his marriage until he sought treatment. He then became Director of Mutual Support Services at ServiceNet, Inc., in Northampton and since 2000 has strived to integrate clinical and peer services to treat people who hoard.
"The conference felt incredibly warm, positive, and energized," he said. "The attendees gave me a lot of feedback that my story gives them strength and hope for themselves and others who struggle with clutter. I felt that the public got to interact with some of the best minds in the field. I think they felt that our approach of Harm Reduction and objective protocols for safety and security are coming from a good place. People seemed excited to go back into the community with renewed optimism and skills."
Dr. Gail Steketee conducts a workshop on Engaging People Who Hoard
The other speakers moderated workshops that focused on community based practices to address hoarding, emergent findings on the hoarding disorder, the role of families in providing help to a hoarder, how to motivate and engage people who hoard and hoarding and in rental housing.
"There was fantastic attendance of 500 people. It clearly shows the need for continuing education about hoarding,” said panelist Thomas A. Stokes, Vice President of Resident Services for Beacon Communities and a longtime member of MassHousing’s Community Services Advisory Committee. "MassHousing is a leader in the country for addressing hoarding in a comprehensive way and has provided more resources than any other state."
"I really enjoyed attending and presenting at the conference," said Dr. Steketee. "The mix of people from every profession was terrifically energizing for all of us and the more than 500 attendees says it all; hoarding is an important problem of great concern to many communities. Massachusetts is ahead of the curve with many communities having effective task forces or communication strategies. MassHousing has done a fabulous job of educating us all."
MassHousing hosted a groundbreaking conference on hoarding in 2007 that led to the formation of the Massachusetts Statewide Steering Committee on Hoarding, which educates statewide stakeholders to the problems of hoarding; engages these stakeholders to work collaboratively to implement practical solutions to hoarding issues, and; supports the efforts of local Hoarding Task Forces throughout the state.
Dr. Bratiotis, who was involved in the 2007 conference, said Massachusetts has implemented many resources to address hoarding and said the attendance at this year’s conference reflected the seriousness of the problem and the great interest by stakeholders in learning how to address it.
"The 2014 conference was an extraordinary success,” she said. "The attendees represented the full range of professional disciplines needed to respond to various aspects of hoarding behavior in the community."