Catholic Healthcare is to launch a Sydney telephone hotline to coordinate responses to people living in domestic squalor.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Catholic Healthcare has received $375,000 as part of a pilot program to operate the phone line and organise the many agencies from the RSPCA to the fire brigade that can be involved in making squalid homes habitable and hygienic.
The phone line, 1800 225 474, will act as a single point of access for concerned neighbours and for agencies with clients living in squalor.
NSW Minister for Ageing, Paul Lynch, said the new project would bring hope to those living in abject squalor, as well as to the public at large, in its search for a solution to a growing but hidden social issue.
The number of elderly people who live in severe squalor, among rotting piles of garbage, scurrying rodents, sodden bedclothes and sometimes a menagerie of animals, appears to be on the rise, presenting local councils, welfare workers and neighbours with financial and ethical dilemmas.
A study by John Snowdon, professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Sydney, showed at least one in 1,000 elderly people lived in appalling filth, amounting to about 500 in the state at any one time. "In addition there are at least 500 younger people," Professor Snowdon said.
Most of the elderly people had dementia, alcoholic brain damage or intellectual disabilities, or simply could no longer physically cope with maintaining a house. Many of the younger ones had schizophrenia or drug and alcohol addictions.
"And there are some with personalities that cause them to acquire lots and lots of useless possessions, hoarding everything from lawn mowers to pizza cartons," Professor Snowdon said.
The managing director of Catholic Healthcare, Chris Rigby, said the average cost of a squalor clean up was $3,000, and in the most extreme cases could amount to $60,000.
In the pilot stage the service will operate in a limited area from Pittwater to Maroubra and west to Leichhardt, but Ms Graham hopes it will eventually be extended.
Help a phone call away for those living in squalor (Sydney Morning Herald, 19/11/08)