Condo hoarding so bad elderly woman had no space to lie down
Agencies win award for helping mother and daughter who hoarded various items
When the clutter in a condominium unit started spilling into the service balcony, a worried neighbour living in the unit above alerted grassroots members at a Meet-the-People session in Taman Jurong.
When the authorities eventually managed to get into the unit in Yuan Ching Road, they found a partially paralysed elderly woman surrounded by plastic bags and old food containers.
The hoarding was so severe that there was no space in the unit for furniture. The kitchen was too cluttered to cook in, and the bathroom too cluttered for a shower.
There was no space for the elderly woman to even lie down.
The intervention in April last year saw teamwork from the police, grassroots members, the condominium's management committee, paramedics and even a locksmith, who was on standby.
For their "citizen-centric" delivery of municipal services and inter-agency collaboration, team members from the Singapore Police Force, Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and People's Association received the Municipal Services Award last month.
The New Paper understands that the hoarding case, which involved a 40-something unit owner and her mother, was brought to the attention of the grassroots committee in 2014. The committee and the SCDF separately attempted to intervene.
But hoarding cases - particularly one in a condominium - can be challenging for the authorities.
"In a public area, the authorities can help to take action, but within a unit in a condominium - which we have not dealt with before - there is no pre-determined framework to follow," said Mr Cheah Kok Keong, chairman of the Taman Jurong Community Emergency and Engagement Committee Council, which was part of the team that intervened.
The police were alerted to the case in April last year by the committee and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
Police superintendent Ang Bee Chin, who led the team, knew she had to reach out to other agencies to tackle the issue.
She said: "We cannot do this alone, it should be a multi-agency approach. We had to approach the case holistically and not look at it as just a decluttering case. There is also their (the unit owner and her mother) psychological well-being and social aspects to consider."
AIC was roped in to address such aspects.
"Hoarding is actually a complex need that require us to address the social factor, physical health, mental health and emotional factor," said Madam Rebecca Chong, deputy director of community mental health division in AIC.
"We worked closely with SCDF and IMH to have the ambulance on standby and prepare the emergency room so that once they (the unit owner and her mother) were ferried out of the house, doctors would be ready to receive them - these were some of the components we discussed during our meetings."
After the owner and her mother received medical help, grassroots volunteers and cleaners hired by the condominium's management committee helped to clear the clutter in the unit, which also had old toys and expired canned food.
The owner's brother and father were present to assist with the clean-up.
Supt Ang said: "We learnt from AIC and IMH that even if we help them to remove the items, the items will be brought back very quickly.
"For hoarding, we came to know that there is a need for follow-up psychological checks, so the concern was that they do not go back to their old ways. We can help them to clear now but, in a few months, they may come back."