Linda Man

Evicting hoarders


People who collect massive amounts of stuff in their apartments often suffer from a mental disability that causes them to become hoarders. Even so, they can face eviction — despite state laws that protect renters with disabilities. And when hoarders get evicted, they usually become homeless.

“Hoarding behaviors may result in a landlord issuing an eviction notice on the basis that the tenant has created a nuisance, fire hazard, or other danger in the building. If the tenant is diagnosed as disabled, the tenant may notify the landlord of the disability and request the landlord provide a reasonable accommodation to enable the tenant to remain in the apartment rather than being evicted,” reads a recent report from San Francisco’s Mental Health Association, which is seeking to educate renters, landlords, and the general public on the issue.

Evictions in San Francisco are on the rise. Between March 1, 2010 and Feb. 28, 2011, 1,370 evictions were filed, an 8 percent rise from 1,269 evictions the previous year. The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) offer protections to those who have a disability, but landlords say there are liability issues associated with excessive hoarding.

Tenants can fight evictions by asking their landlords for a “reasonable accommodation” whose duration depends on the situation. A reasonable accommodation could be a plan that requires 30 days of cleaning and support service for hoarders in an effort to avoid eviction.

According to, hoarding is labeled an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But many researchers consider it a distinct mental health problem that can be treated with therapy or counseling. California law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more life activities, such as walking, seeing, hearing, working, learning, or caring for oneself.

Sandra Stark, 66, hasn’t allowed anyone in her home for five years. She collects kitchenware and antiques. Like most hoarders, she started collecting after a traumatic event. It occurred when she was in her 30s and was gaining weight. Stark had never heard of the term “hoarder” until she watched a special on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

She claims her hoarding is a symptom of depression and disability, not OCD. “I feel like, with my weight, the clutter is a barrier between me and the world that hurt me,” she told us.

Before TV shows uncovered the lives of hoarders, family and friends often were the ones to call for help. These days, hoarders often seek help themselves. A&E’s Hoarders receives 1,000 submissions every month. After we spoke to some hoarders, they were all willing to seek change.

MHA recognized the problem and created a task force in 2007. Its goal was to build a plan of action to combat compulsive hoarding in San Francisco. The task force puts the costs of compulsive hoarding at more than $6 million per year. In 2009, the task force completed its report and estimated that between 12,000 and 25,000 residents in San Francisco struggle with this condition.

Most landlords try not to evict hoarding tenants right away. “Landlords may be compassionate and, in many cases, I believe, try hard to prevent evictions. However, they still have liability insurance and strict guidelines to follow,” said Tim Ballard, a social work supervisor for the city. “It is their responsibility to protect the other tenants, and the painful result used as a means of harm reduction is often the legal option of eviction proceedings.”

He said the heavy cleaning required on a hoarder’s home can cost between $6,000 and $8,000 and can include removing trash to create safety in their home. The largest amount spent was $16,000. Currently, Ballard has 300 clients who are hoarders or clutterers in San Francisco.

On March 10, MHA hosted its 13th Conference on Hoarding and Cluttering. Keynote speaker Christiana Bratiotis, who has her doctorate in social work and is director of the Hoarding Research Project, defined compulsive hoarding as the “acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value.”

Michael Badolato, administrative assistant of Broderick Street Adult Residential Facility, attended to find a reasonable approach to deal with a hoarding resident living in his facility. “The challenge of hoarding is the mental health issue involved,” he said. Other attendees included educators, landlords, healthcare workers, attorneys, and hoarders themselves.

One panel discussion topic was how hoarding and cluttering are portrayed in the media. The panel included Michael Gause, associate director of MHA; Robin Zasio, a physician on A&E’s Hoarders; and Kari Peterson, an organizer from Hoarding: Buried Alive. Hoarders was created to show people in crisis and prevent the behaviors through the show.

The panelists claim that in order to show what the crisis is, a sensational aspect is involved. Ceci Garnett, whose mother was featured in an episode of Hoarders, says knowing that others are out there is “worth it to let people know they are not alone.

“And at least now there is treatment,” she continued. “We have to risk sensationalism to start a conversation.”

Ray Cleary, who was on season one of TLC’s Buried Alive, also appeared on the panel. Featured before and after treatment, he is still in the process of recovering. “I didn’t have to throw everything away,” he says. “I still have boxes and don’t know what to do with them.”

Another hoarder, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid eviction, was critical of the media attention on hoarding. “It’s a cult. People are going to make a career off my circumstance — making it a disease.”

These people have “already decided it’s a pre-mental disease,” she continued.

Inside her home near Van Ness Avenue, a small path led from the door to her living room. By the door hung green bead necklaces from years of parades; yellowing stacks of paper filled every space in the rooms. An information junkie, she collects newspapers and books. A San Francisco resident for 45 years, she used to be homeless and has suffered from a head injury. “Throwing something away is like throwing away memory — and that means it’s gone forever,” she says.

When she was homeless, her belongings went to storage. But when she got housing, she couldn’t throw anything away. Everyone she knows who has suffered from a head injury has this problem as well, she says, claiming it comes from gradually mixed emotional issues from losses and her health.

For years she tried to find someone to help her recycle or donate items, but she couldn’t find the help she needed, even from her case manager. Other hoarders claim that most caseworkers aren’t aware of their condition and assume they just need to throw everything out at once — something hoarders don’t feel they can easily do.

Her landlord isn’t involved with the property and doesn’t know of the situation. She would like someone to sit and accompany her as she cleans, but she doesn’t know of any service that provides this. During the interview, she picked up a phone call from someone who was going to stop by later to help. “But they usually flake on me,” she acknowledged. Her hoarding, she says, is part of a physical health issue, not a mental health problem.

But San Francisco does offer places such as the MHA conference to discuss the issue. Hoarders‘ Dr. Zasio says the show helps the people who are willing to go on TV. In exchange for going public, the network pays for six months aftercare, including services such as home repairs and therapy sessions. Although the network recognizes that it gains ratings by sensationalizing the condition for 44 minutes, it also wants to raise public awareness.

Of the 1,370 evictions in San Francisco in the past year, 442 cases were prompted by a breach of rental agreement and 271 cases were for committing a nuisance. These cases could include hoarding, but the city doesn’t specify that in its statistics.

As Teresa Friend from the Homeless Advocacy Project said: “If the person with a disability including hoarding is without family or friends to turn to or is not part of a legal intervention process and evicted, they will end up homeless.”


USF hosts mayoral forum focused on service


The University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service will host the political season’s first major mayoral candidate forum – this one focused on public service and staged in partnership with the nonprofit group buildOn – on Thursday, May 5, at 6 pm.

Candidates Michela Alioto-Pier, John Avalos, David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Tony Hall, Dennis Herrera, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting, and Leland Yee are expected to attend. Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend this event held at USF’s McLaren Conference Center, 2130 Fulton Street.

“The intent of the forum is to help frame the mayoral campaign and also encourage candidates to talk about what drove them to service and how people can get involved in San Francisco, especially the youth,” Corey Cook, assistant professor in the USF Department of Politics, told us. Cook will moderate the event, which will include questions from high school students participating in buildOn and McCarthy Center service programs.

Carrie Pena, buildOn’s communications director, told us, “Students from public high school will ask questions based on bare thoughts on public service and what it means to be a good public servant.”

BuildOn provides programs for students to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. About 90 percent of buildOn students go to college. There are 19 schools in the Bay Area working with buildOn and in the previous year, the students contributed more than 24,000 hours to the Bay Area community.

At USF, service learning is a core class part of the graduation requirement where each student dedicates at least 20-25 hours of service per 15-week semester. “Co-hosting a mayoral forum is a fitting project for USF and buildOn because it will engage high school and college students, as well as the greater community, into the process of local politics,” Cook said on the USF website.

Catarina Schwab, buildOn’s vice president of development, said the partnership is a good match: “We aligned with USF because they focus a lot on service. Both were interested in a forum on service. We are even going to have a buildOn chapter at USF.”

Sunday Streets could spawn skating world records


A Guinness world record for the longest roller skating chain may be broken here in San Francisco this weekend. The car-free Sunday Streets returns to the Great Highway and Golden Gate Park, where “godfather of skating” David Miles plans to break the record now held by Samsung Asia Pte Ltd. in Singapore, with 280 skaters on August 6, 2006.

In addition to the going for the longest chain of skaters record, he’ll also create the record for longest skating serpentine and longest chain of inline skating as well. For the longest inline skater record, each skater must hold onto the other skaters hips as the group moves together a distance of at least 400 meters without breaking the chain. For the longest serpentine, which includes both inline and regular roller skates, participants must hold hands and follow the head of the serpentine as he or she makes turns to the left and right and moves forward creating a snake like motion with the skaters.

Mayor Ed Lee has agreed to participate and possibly lead a group as well. Although Sunday Streets event is free, registration to participate in this record is $10 and skate rental is $5. Skaters who plan to be part of the record must be registered and can do so here. Miles says there are currently 120 participants signed up but people wanting to participate can register the day of the event starting at 8a.m. The first attempt to break the record starts at 11 a.m. starting at the skating center at 6th Ave and JFK. In addition, Miles and his crew will be performing a “Thriller” dance on skate and “Cha-Cha-Cha Slide” starting at 2:30 p.m.

Sunday Streets also offers free bike rentals for one hour from Bike and Roll and Bay City Bikes at JFK and Transverse or at Lincoln and Great Highway. The seven-person funcycle will be on route and can be flagged down for a try. Roller skate rentals will be at 6th Ave and JFK. Rock the Bike returns with a bike pedal-powered stage at the Rivera sea wall on the Great Highway. For five hours, feel free to walk, run, bike, skate, or waddle. Other fun activities will start at the end of Martin Luther King Drive.

At this event, The Department of Public Works in collaboration with the SF Arts will host a free mural wall painting at The Great Highway and Lincoln. The art piece will be 40 foot long on a blank wall and everyone is invited to paint on it. Spray paint is provided and Francisco “Twick” Aquino, who created the mural at 21st and Capp streets in the Mission, will be the guest host at the free wall.

Sunday Streets encourages people to enjoy streets as open space and perform or lead activities such as yoga. The idea of this event comes from Bogota, Columbia and San Francisco joined this global movement in 2008 to create a healthier city.

“As San Franciscans, we are tapping into what communal creating is,” Sunday Street Coordinator Susan King said. “For 2011, Sunday Streets created a new policy for programming events, allowing for greater community participation and, allowing for more spontaneous activities. We are making participation more accessible and leading activities at Sunday Streets easier…the space itself is the activity.”

Miles also says, “when roads are closed to traffic, we can do all the things we are supposed to do, like be active and be healthy.”

The car- free event will last from 11am to 4pm, rain or shine.

Lyon Martin clinic facing closure


Lyon Martin Health Services — a legendary health clinic that specializes in women’s and LGBT health, celebrating its 30th anniversary last year — is having serious financial problems and could close down as soon as Thursday.

Rumors of the closure have been circulating all day, with Sup. Scott Wiener telling the SF Appeal that a source told him the clinic was closing. And the Guardian has now learned that at least one patient, health educator Catie Magee, had an appointment for Monday canceled by the clinic and was told, “We have to cancel your appointment because Lyon Martin is closing.”

The clinic is the only free-standing community clinic in California that serves to women and transgender people in a place sensitive to sexual and gender identity. The non-profit closure of the clinic would be a great loss to the community since it also provides healthcare regardless of one’s ability to pay.

“If you’re uninsured and your trans or a lesbian, you’ve probably been to Lyon Martin,” transgender labor organizer Gabriel Haaland, who used the clinic for his transition in 1997, told us. Unlike most medical providers, he said Lyon Martin offered hormone shots and other services to anyone who sought them “without making you jump through a whole bunch of hoops.”

Haaland and other supporters of the center plan to gathered tonight at 7 pm in Room 301 of the LGBT Center (1800 Market) to discuss the center and what can be done to save it.

The clinic’s namesakes, pioneering lesbian and feminist activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, were the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license by the city back in 2004, and they were married by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom on Feb. 16, 2004,

In the past year, the clinic served 2,500 patients. Elizabeth Sekera, the clinic director told us that the clinic even sees patients outside the county of San Francisco and unfortunately if the clinic closes, those patients won’t even be covered under the city’s health access program, Healthy San Francisco, since they do not live here.

Sekera said she was unable to comment on why and when the clinic will be closed. She also did not give any information on where patients would be referred to but did say that the staff at Lyon Martin has opposed the closure of the clinic because there isn’t a transition of care plan and the abandonment of patients is unethical.

It is uncertain whether the clinic, which is funded solely by donations, is closing due to funds. The clinic is run by about 23 staff members, interns, and lots of volunteers. The support section in its website pleads, “We need your help! We need it now.”

Magee said the loss of Lyon Martin would be huge blow to the city, particularly after New Leaf, which also served an LGBT clientele, closed last year. “It’s a shame,” Magee said, noting Lyon Martin’s excellent “reputation as a place for women’s and LGBT healthcare.”

Charlene Hawek, who has been a patient at the clinic for two years, expressed concern for where she will go if the clinic does close. When asked if there is any other option she responded, “There’s the Tom Waddell center but it’s not the same.”

Sekera hopes to see the clinic “remain open, possibly under a different name, or a full institution to exist in the same state, live for another 30 years.”