Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Trash, combustibles removed from Beech Ave. home

May 12th, 2014

Paul Clarke

Toronto Star


A female resident looks on as crews clear debris from a Beech Ave. home, May 12, 2014.


City of Toronto officials have been called once again to a house on Beech Ave., which last fall was the site of a case of extreme cat hoarding.


The home, described as overrun with cats, garbage and household items, has been a problem for the neighbourhood since last September, when more than 50 cats were removed by the SPCA.


This time, Toronto Fire has obtained a court order from the Ontario Superior Court to investigate the house and remove “excess combustibles.”


“(We’re) bringing out garbage cans or bags of miscellaneous household items which are either in a state of disrepair, unclean, due to the cats, or worn or broken,” said Capt. David Eckerman.


The front of the picturesque house was nearly obscured Monday by white tents and crews in haz-mat suits. Waste was being tossed into a large disposal unit set up outside the house that had already been emptied and replaced at least once.


In addition to fire crews, Toronto Public Health officials were also on site, along with police, who emphasized they were there strictly “to keep the peace.”


“When I went out to visit the location last August I was riding by on my bike and my eyes basically teared up with the smell of cat feces,” said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.


“I couldn’t believe the state that the resident was living in, let alone the neighbours next door.”


McMahon and other councillors spearheaded the idea of creating a hoarding coordination office to coordinate city departments to clean up hoarders’ houses and apartments more quickly.


“This is someone who is in a vulnerable situation, who may or may not be struggling with physical or mental health issues, and so we want to be sensitive to that. I think the neighbours on Beech Ave. were very sensitive with that,” she said.


The house first appeared on the public radar in May 2011, and charges were first brought before the house’s owner, a woman about 60 years old, in August 2012, Eckerman said. Monday’s culling of combustibles came about after complaints by neighbours.


In December council passed the SPIDER program, short for Specialized Program for Interdivisional Enhanced Response, to deal with the issue.


Councillor Josh Matlow, who introduced the motion, said he became concerned about the lack of co-ordination between departments after learning of at least two hoarders in his ward of St. Paul’s.


“It’s been incredibly frustrating because for over 10 years, long before I was elected, residents have been calling city hall in a number of different ways trying to get action, and nothing really ever came out of it,” said Matlow.


“It was very clear to me that we needed to bring all the different departments together to finally start working together in a comprehensive way.”


Council approved hiring two new temporary employees to over see the implementation of the program.


He added that until the hoarder receives the mental health care that they need the problem will continue to repeat itself.


“I’d like to see the province, while protecting people’s civil liberties, also create more opportunities to ensure people like problem hoarders do receive the care they so clearly need,” Matlow said.


Eckerman said the priority now is strictly bringing the house up to a level where it complies with fire codes. Toronto fire estimates the cleanup could take two to three days, but said the basement, the worst floor in terms of violations, has been mostly cleared.


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