Police Crack Down on Hoarders

Fourteen firefighters were injured recently trying to put out a blaze in a Queens apartment that was packed to the rafters with so much stuff they couldn't even get in the front door.

In firefighter lingo, it was a "Collyer's Mansion," named after two New York brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, who were found dead in their home in 1947 surrounded by 100 tons of belongings.

About 2 million people in this country suffer from the disorder known as hoarding. They compulsively collect things they don't need but are unable to discard even meaningless objects.

Officials say that, especially in dense urban areas, hoarding is much more than just eccentric behavior -- it's a major hazard. They're starting to crack down.

In Arlington, Va., police and fire officials recently beefed up their "hoarding task force," evicting some hoarders, seeking help for others.

"We all live in our own homes, and we all want our sense of privacy, also," said Carol Sauliner, chief fire marshal of Arlington Fire Department. "But what we are trying to do is protect the most people, also."

In October, the task force shut lawyer Sam Shipkovitz out of his two-bedroom apartment, saying his piles of papers, boxes, suitcases and clothes posed a danger to his neighbors. Shipkovitz said he felt differently.

"It looked like the backroom of a major law firm," Shipkovitz said to ABC in a written statement.

He filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city, but it was thrown out.

Wrong Approach?

Some psychologists like Renae Reinardy, who works for the Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Md., say that strong-arming hoarders won't work and that stripping them of their belongings just fuels their urge to hoard.

"If we are focusing on public safety," Reinardy said, "why are we not going into bars and pulling people who look like they are alcoholics and trying to treat their alcoholism in that way?"

Police in Fairfax, Va., say they had to act when they discovered nearly 500 cats, living and dead, in one woman's home and when they learned one man was housing 31 dogs.

The man was ordered to haul out his trash and give the dogs up for adoption.

"There was a large degree of animal waste," said Officer Andrew Sanderson of the Fairfax County Police. "They were concerned about the animals' condition."

ABC News' Nancy Weiner reported this story for "Good Morning America."