Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hoarding & The Human Tragedy of Eviction


I arrived home to Columbia Heights from work yesterday to a remarkable scene. The sidewalks in front of my house, indeed, up and down the block, were piled high with boxes, furniture, and all manner of things. Cleary, someone had been put out of their home. Or had the entire block been put out? If my entire neighborhood had been siezed through eminent domain, I had missed the notice.

My neighbor a few doors down had lost her job and had been evicted. She is a Venezuelan woman who had moved here more than two decades ago, and her passion was to collect things that may seem like basics of life to people in the United States, but were priceless to people from her native country. Before she became unemployed, she would periodically fill a shipping container with the objects she collected, send them to Venezuela on a boat, and meet the cargo there, to distribute it to people there who could use it.

TBD said "It's unclear how long she had been keeping the items she said she intended to donate, or whether she had ever sent anything." TBD apparently didn't talk to her for very long. I remember seeing the sidewalk storage container in front of her house a couple years ago, and though I didn't know its purpose at the time, another neighbor of mine confirmed that she had indeed been doing this periodically for a long time.

It is hard to express the sadness that I felt in looking around at this scene. My neighbor had apparently lost her job about a year ago, and couldn't afford to go again. I was told by another neighbor that she had been working as a housekeeper since, but it wasn't enough.

To be sure, she could have made different decisions. I thought about all the different things that could have been. Yes, she was clearly a hoarder. If she had just started selling some of these things, maybe she could have paid the bills for a bit longer. But a middle-aged Venezuelan woman with limited English probably didn't think well heck I'll just start up an ebay company.

DSC_0007But, at the same time, society failed her. The U.S. Marshalls, whose job is to perform these evictions, did not need to handle this like any other situation. This woman has lived there for more than a decade. They did their job, and apparently, their job is to remove the contents of a home and put it on the sidewalk without any consideration for the situation or the consequences.

Nobody knew what was in her home until its contents were expelled onto the street.

Someone could have decided let's just take a deep breath. Let's give her another month. Let's see if we can connect her with someone who can maybe help her turn all this stuff into enough cash to keep going for a little longer. Maybe there's an answer that can prevent this tragedy and even use the very items that make up this spectacle to prevent it.

It's sad that the letter of our laws are more important than human beings.

Jim Graham was there late into the evening, and arranged for police to stay on the scene overnight to ward off looters. He and his staff arranged for a couple pickup trucks to come and transport her most important possessions to a safe place. I give him credit for at responding and offering some help to a woman in a most desperate situation.

Update from TBD

TBD says "Diaz tells ABC 7 News she was also evicted from her apartment on Rock Creek Church Road one year ago. She abandoned her belongings that were set out from that residence. Diaz says she accumulated all of her belongings that were pulled from her home in Northwest within the past year. She says she's been evicted many times before, but the latest is "the most historic." Diaz hasn't worked full-time in 2.5 years, but has done odd jobs. She is currently three months behind on her rent."

This does not at all match with what I have been told by my neighbors who have lived on the street for far longer than I. I don't know what the truth is, and I have a very hard time believing that anyone could accumulate this much stuff in a year. Whatever actually happened it doesn't change my belief that this shouldn't have happened.

Update 2 - There Is Good In The World!

First NBC reports what I previously had been told - that she'd been in her home here for 15 years.

But they conclude with this bit of heartwarming news:

"While NBC4 was reporting on the story Wednesday morning, numerous calls were made to the newsroom with offers of help, including an offer from JK Moving and Storage in Sterling, Va. The company said it would pack up and store her belongings for a month for free, and then move them to a new home -- wherever that may be."



Anonymous said...

thank you for writing this thoughtful and informative piece

Alex said...

The only person in a position to say "let's take a deep breath" would have been the landlord. Once the courts issue their judgment, the Marshals have to carry it out. And by the time an eviction happens, the landlord is already out many months rent and legal fees, since this whole process takes a long time. If s/he calls it off, it has to start again from zero, and most can't afford that.

For it to turn out better, someone would have had to work with this woman for months to help her deal with her hoarding problem and help her voluntarily move to a more affordable place instead of being evicted.

Even then it's difficult -- a hoarder got evicted from a building I used to live in, for health/fire violations, not nonpayment, and the building tried to work with him literally for years before realizing the problem couldn't be mitigated.

There are no easy answers, and yes it's sad when someone's whole life is thrown out on the street. I'm impressed with Jim Graham for helping out. And also impressed with JK Moving and Storage -- they moved me a few years ago and did a great job, and now I know they're good people all around.