SINGAPORE - Government agencies and town councils will step up enforcement on cluttered corridors in the coming months as part of its push to tackle hoarding issues, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann on Monday.
The authorities will also step up public education on the dangers of hoarding, she told the House in response to questions from MPs on the issue, which resurfaced after two fires broke out in Housing Board flats - where one man died. In one unit, items were regularly left in the common corridor while the other unit was piled high with bags, clothes and newspapers.
A multi-agency group set up in 2014 to resolve protracted hoarding cases has managed to "reduce the severity" of 210 such cases as of the first half of this year, Ms Sim said, adding that these are actively monitored to prevent clutter from accumulating again.
The Ministry of National Development said in these cases, the hoarding has been reduced to a "safe level" that does not pose a risk to public health and safety.
The Hoarding Management Core Group is currently working on 260 active hoarding cases, said Ms Sim.
"These complex cases remain protracted and unresolved because it's difficult to gain hoarders' cooperation to declutter," she said, noting that officers often face tensions on the ground.
This is especially in cases where the clutter falls short of outright legal violations or does not meet the threshold for public health and safety risks as determined by the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the National Environment Agency.
Ms Sim said officers will have to repeatedly engage and persuade hoarders to declutter, and at times rope in social workers and mental health professionals to help.
"We have encountered cases where hoarders refuse to open their door for inspections or cooperate in decluttering - some may even threaten self-harm at the thought of losing their belongings," she said.
"Even if their homes were successfully decluttered once, the clutter may recur as habits do not change so quickly."
But recent cases have illustrated that decluttering is needed not just to keep the community safe, but the hoarder as well, she said, adding that government agencies will assess the risk posed by the worst hoarding cases.
"Where orders are issued for public health and safety reasons and hoarders are cooperative, we will proceed to declutter via the community-based approach with the assistance of volunteer groups," she said.
"However, even in cases where hoarders are unwilling to part with their items, we will act firmly in the interest of public health and safety to intervene."
Ms Sim also sought public understanding on the challenges in addressing hoarding issues.
She noted that the root cause of a hoarder's behaviour is often complex and hoarding could be a symptom of underlying mental health conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder or developed after experiencing trauma or deep grief.
"We empathise with neighbours' frustration with the recurrence of inconveniences and disamenities, but also seek your understanding that the challenges and complexities in hoarding intervention require persistent efforts sustained over a long period, both on agencies' and the hoarder's part," she said.