It may seem like a surreal situation on television shows, but hoarding is very much a reality for dozens of people in northeastern Ontario.

Public health inspector John Groulx said his office doesn't get called to every case of hoarding, but still has to deal with anywhere from 20 to 40 cases a year in Sudbury.

Conditions in a hoarder's home can create fire and health hazards. And those problems can threaten neighbors —especially in an apartment building.

To address the situation, Groulx said it takes a team approach, including "working with fire services when there [are] fire hazards that are observed, working with by-law when there's property standards issues, [and] working with building services."

"When we work together with all these community partners there's a better end result," he said.

No easy way to help

Over in North Bay, the executive director of a group that helps people in hoarding situations, called Low Income People Involvement, said she's seen extreme cases.

"People make themselves homeless," Lana Mitchell said.

"We had one woman who couldn't get into her condominium anymore. Then she couldn't even sleep in her car anymore. [She was] just collecting things. Her issue was [saving the environment] … collecting recyclables out of other peoples' recyclables. [She was] trying to save the world."

When hoarding threatens public safety, Mitchell said her group works with the fire marshal’s office, which gets involved in about 10 severe cases a year.

Mitchell's group has drafted a protocol for professionals who may encounter a suspected hoarder, which gives them advice and guidance on how to manage the situation.

There is no quick or easy way to help and often people start to hoard because of grief or social isolation, she said.

Mitchell recalled working with one woman who dealt with her emotions differently.

"There [were] no bugs, there was no smell," she said. "Things were dated like ‘this was purchased at Food City [in] 1972.’ How much she paid for it was written on the carton. Everything was meticulously organized."