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What to do if a hoarder is living in your neighborhood

Compulsive hoarding is the excessive collection of items along with the inability to get rid of them. According to the Center for Compulsive Hoarding, 3 million Americans struggle with this issue.

But what about the hoarder's neighbors? Here's what you need to know if you've got a hoarder next door.

Often reality shows depict hoarders as prisoners, trapped in their own clutter. But what you don't see is how a desperate hoarder who feels threatened can turn violent.

In Long Beach, California there was a case of an agitated hoarder who shot at a city inspector responding to complaints about his junk-filled home and yard.

What followed was a tense, 7-hour standoff. Neighbors filmed the frightening scene and posted it on you-tube.

Neighbor Cheryl McCowen lives just a few doors down and knew the hoarder for several years.

She says, "It was really ugly. It was something you don't want to see in your neighborhood."

"It was heartbreaking, because all he was trying to do was save his own house. And he really felt everyone was against him. They were gonna take everything he owned and he would have nothing left in this world," says McCowen. 

The Long Beach incident is an extreme case. But Attorney Scott Fisher says a hoarder can endanger any neighbor-hood just by stockpiling useless items and not disposing of trash.

"The risk of fires, the risk of spread of illness or disease. We think of rodents or vermin that are attracted by the hoarded objects on the property," explains Fisher. 

Besides the immediate health risks, Fisher says hoarders can also have a long-term impact on neighbors by lowering their property values.

Fisher says, "Certainly there's a financial effect that can manifest because of the hoarding activity in addition to the physical threats or harm that it's causing to the neighbors."

Fisher says many people only focus on getting a hoarder's property cleaned up and fail to recognize that their junk is only part of the problem.

"It's very important that the neighbors try to engage the city's mental health agency to try to deal with this hoarder directly and try to consider this problem as a mental health issue," says Fisher. 

Looking back on it, that's something Cheryl McCowen wishes she and her neighbors had done.

"I think we could have maybe had some kind of intervention, and something to do with a social worker coming and talking to him instead of just put a Band Aid on it. Maybe things would have turned out different," McCowen expresses. 

So, if you have a hoarder living near you, keep in mind that their clutter may just be the tip of the iceberg. Your neighbor could be suffering from a serious psychological problem and be in real need of professional care.

Scott Fisher says if you feel strange about calling mental health services, you should reach out to the hoarder's relatives or close friends and get them involved in the situation because hoarders rarely seek treatment unless loved-ones motivate them to do so.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved. 

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