TODAY   |  June 13, 2013

New program aims to help compulsive hoarders

The latest psychiatric diagnostic manual now lists compulsive hoarding as an official disorder, inspiring a group of agencies in southern California to begin an innovative new program to help rein in hoarders. NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

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>>> now to an innovative program that deal with a serious problem faced by millions of americans. it's hording, and it could become a model for cities across the country. eamon is here with the details. good morning to you.

>> thanks, matt. the latest edition of the psychiatric manual lists compulsive hording as an official disorder. an estimated 1 out of 20 million americans has a problem with it. that's why an agency in southern california is taking a more holistic approach to protecting their community. somewhere in this room is the bed for nancy hall spends most of her day. after more than a decade of hoarding, there are only a few places where nancy can stand or sit in her two-story town home . your house is almost not usable with the way that you want to use it.

>> oh, yeah.

>> reporter: and that has orange county fire prevention specialist darren johnson worried.

>> the amount of combustibles that nancy has in her house and smoking is just a countdown to a disaster.

>> reporter: johnson is part of the county's hoarding task force , protecting communities from the safety risks of hoarders while helping hoarders like nancy . with johnson 's help, nancy has cleared a path in her home, installed new smoke alarms, and even stche to electronic cigarettes. it's all an effort to keep nancy 's home from turning into this. this is the worst of the worst, a town home in san juan capistrano , where johnson and a vector control inspector are forced to walk on two feet of trash to check for rats.

>> there's a lot of dead. you can smell the dead.

>> you can definitely smell the dead.

>> reporter: the home belonged to jillian cannon, a lifelong hoarder who passed away in january and hadn't allowed anyone in her home in more than six years.

>> two years ago we tried to have an intervention with her. we wanted to try and get things cleaned up and get her on the road to recovery, and she absolutely refused.

>> you really do need help with this.

>> reporter: back at nancy 's home, the fire department calls in another member of the task force .

>> you come into a room like this, what's your initial reaction or response?

>> reporter: paperwork is a tough one for a lot of people. nancy , you're definitely not alone there. cory chalmers is the owner of the cleaning company featured in the tv show "hoarders."

>> anyone who works with a hoarder has to play psychologist. this isn't about going in and taking their trash and cleaning up stuff, it really is.

>> reporter: what if you came in and your house was beautiful and you didn't know what happened to your stuff. what would your thoughts and emotions be? is

>> well, i would be appalled, to begin with.

>> reporter: for the task force , success comes from striking the right balance between ensuring public safety and getting individual help for people like nancy .

>> she's going down the right path, and we're just excited for nancy .

>> it's in the right direction. obviously, you know, there's a long way to go.

>> nancy says a flood in the late '90s was the beginning of her problems with clutter, and she's never been able to get organized since then. the goal of this task force is to get homeowners like nancy to want to get cleaned up and organized rather than finding them or forcing them out of their homes.

>> that number is can sshocking. 1 in 20 people have some form of this disorder.

>>> coming up, we have a live performance from harry connick