It began with a call for a welfare check from Adult Protective Services. Someone had reported to APS that there was an older woman living in her car, and the Port Orchard Police Department responded.
Sgt. Donna Main was one of the officers who found the woman and learned why she was apparently homeless. The woman was parked in front of a nice, older home her family has owned since 1946. She had cared for her mother in that home before the mother died. There were so many memories … and so much stuff.
The entire property showed signs of neglect. Both the front and
back yards were overgrown with brush.
“You couldn’t see the house from the street, because it’s all overgrown,” Main said. “You can open the door … sort of.”
Inside are piles of stuff to the point one would have to crawl over the stuff to get in.
“She said she was trying to clean up a bit,” said Main. But clearly the task had become overwhelming. So the woman, who is 73, moved into her car.
“When I found her in the car, she had food; she was warm,” Main said. “She wasn’t asking for help. She wasn’t asking for assistance. She wasn’t asking for handouts. She’s a very strong woman.”
It was a police matter, but it wasn’t. The woman was not in danger, and she wasn’t a danger to anyone else. Main could have written her report and called it a day.
“I just couldn’t personally go home to my warm bed knowing this 73-year-old woman was sleeping in her car,” Main said.
Officer Bill Shaibly also took an interest in the woman’s plight.
The woman had all the symptoms of having a hoarding disorder, defined by the American Psychiatric Association as excessive saving of “items that others may view as worthless and have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces.”
Often, hoarding is associated with other types of psychiatric disorders, but this woman appeared to be thinking clearly, Main said. And she was open to help in getting rid of the excess stuff.
“She knows she needs to make some changes,” Main said. “She knows she needs to let some stuff go if she wants to get back in her house.”
Main and Schaibley recruited friends and workers from Naval Base Kitsap to clear the front yard a couple of weeks ago. Last weekend, a group from the community tackled the backyard, with help and donations of supplies like bags and gloves from Port Orchard Walmart. Main emphasized that the help wasn’t directly connected to the police department. It was simply people responding to a neighbor in need.
Main and others have arranged for the woman to receive pro bono counseling and dental work.
In upcoming weeks, they will tackle the inside of the house.
“It’s an enormous job,” main said. “I don’t know if this can be done. But if we don’t try, we’ll never know.”