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Hoarding task force looking to expand and reach more people

Hoarding task force looking to expand and reach more people

For nearly five years the Traverse Bay Area Task Force on Hoarding has been working to tackle the growing issue on hoarding in northern Michigan.

Now they're looking to expand their reach.

It's estimated more than 4,000 individuals in Grand Traverse County alone could meet the criteria for hoarding.

Which is why this task force is so passionate about trying to combat it.

Dozens gathered Monday at the Garfield Township Hall, to learn about the mission.

Among those in the seats was Guy Labonte, who has had struggles of his own over the years.

"I collect a lot of stuff, building materials, insulation, I find windows, I want to replace some windows but it's just more work than what I think when I go to do something," Labonte said.

He says the materials add up overtime as the jobs he hopes to finish don't get done.

But he says listening to today's information is helpful.

"It helps me have a better awareness of other people that are concerned about it and everything like this helps me to be held more accountable."

People like Labonte are exactly who the task force hopes to help.

"We want people to be comfortable," said Meredith Hawes, Regional Education Specialist for the National Fire Protection Agency. "To get in touch with us for themselves or for family. We are not going to do anything to their home that they don't want help with."

The task force is now looking to expand and work with other agencies.

"We're at a point where we could use some additional input, especially from the mental health world for support for folks," said Hawes. But we know that in order to have sustainable change, people need to be getting the treatment that they need to deal with the hoarding as a condition."

Because those who face these struggles can not only put themselves in danger, but also those around them, and first responders who try to help them.

In 2013 -- fire crews were unable to save one man's life from a house fire because of hoarding.

"It takes a lot of time to find a person in a house like that and try to do a rescue to get them out," said Chief Jim Tuller of the Traverse City Fire Department. "Because we just have minutes to get a person out of a house that's on fire."

It's cases like this they want to prevent.

For more information on how to get help -- or get involved with the task force call Meredith Hawes at 1-866-642-4582. Or email here at mhawes@nfpa.org.

You can also contact Chief Tuller at 231-922-4930 or jtuller@tcfire.org.

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