After many letters to the city and a successful plea to the media spearheaded by neighbor Leticia Ruiz, the potential health hazard is finally getting under control
FOR years, a Filipina resident of Los Angeles has lived next door to a hoarder whose accumulation of items and trash has become a health hazard for the entire street.
To date, Leticia Ruiz, the Filipina next door neighbor who has lived in her Koreatown home since 1981, has sent at least half a dozen letters to the City of LA and local media outlets to try to catalyze some action on this home, which for years was completely buried by 8- to 10-foot tall piles of hoarded goods.
This posed as a serious public health risk and invited hordes of insects, rats, and other vermin who contributed to the overwhelming smell that began to permeate the street.
On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 4, however, a cleanup crew from the city arrived at the home of the hoarder — who agreed to let the crew on his property — and cleared away six truckloads of items and debris. According to the city, the entire cleanup process will span several days.
“At least they’ve started cleaning up,” Ruiz told the Asian Journal in a phone interview on Thursday after the city’s crews arrived at the hoarder’s home. “[We all] feel great and thankful to everyone. At least our community will be back to normal.”
But Ruiz said that the home and yard are still buried underneath the tall stockpile of items that were believed to collected by the homeowner. These items included multiple refrigerators, tables, mattresses, boxes, and other home furniture and goods.
Ruiz, who is now retired after working for Bank of America for almost 30 years, said that she and the other neighbors were hesitant to speak to the hoarder directly because they were concerned about his mental health issues.
“I’m an old lady and I cannot fight with a young man, because I’m scared; what if he’s gonna hurt me?” Ruiz shared, adding that she is concerned over the health of the hoarder’s mother, who is in her 90s and lives in the home.
Ruiz said that the neighbors believe that the interior of the home is still full of debris, which could be a potential hazard for the mother. She said, “I pity the mother, but she’s very nice and she’s very religious. But she’s getting sick and she’s getting weak.”
According to the American Psychological Association, hoarding disorder is a complex issue that is denoted by three main characteristics: difficulty in letting go of material possessions, excessive and/or impulsive collecting of new items, and inability to organize and prevent clutter.
Reality shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” continues to document the complicated disorder through case studies of actual hoarders, most of whom suffer from an array of mental health conditions.
Not much is known about the Koreatown hoarder and his history of mental health, but the neighbors were worried about him and his mother. Mental health experts advise that neighbors of hoarders should contact a family member or someone who knows the hoarder.
Though Thursday’s cleanup is a sign that the hoarding situation is improving, Ruiz said that she’s tried for years to get the city to act on her many requests to no avail. She’s written to the mayor’s office, the office of LA’s Council District 10, and the city departments of Building and Safety and Public Health.
“Every time I called them, they would say that the person in charge was on vacation or unavailable so I would call again, but whenever I did call back, nothing would happen! It was useless,” Ruiz recalled.
She said that while the mess has never reached her own property — she said the hoarder would park several motorcycles near her driveway, but never touching her property — she was worried that the stacks of boxes and debris would be a huge fire hazard.
She’s also written to KCAL9 and CBS2, which finally aired a segment on the hoard this week, which she and the neighbors believe helped finally literally break ground and initiate the cleanup on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Fire Department said that they were aware of the hoard on Oct. 14 and sent an inspector to the property four days later. The homeowner was then issued a notice giving him 30 days to clean up the property.
Though other neighbors have been interviewed by reporters, Ruiz said that her neighbors consider her the main intermediary between the street’s community and the city and media.
“My neighbors were telling me that I should always be the one doing the interviews — but maybe it’s because I talk too much,” she said, laughing. “But I ask them, ‘Why are you so ashamed [to speak]?’ Just say something; whatever you feel, just say it! But they said, ‘No, Letty, you better do it for us. And so I did!”