Anyone who has seen A&E’s show “Hoarders” has probably seen the crews who come in and clean featured hoarders’ homes.
For one of those clean-up experts, helping hoarders began long before the show.
Cory Chalmers, often featured on the show, created Steri-Clean to help people in similarly cluttered situations. As a firefighter and paramedic in 1995 in California, he would routinely go into homes to help people with medical issues who were hoarders or who had been victims of violent crimes.
“Going into these homes and seeing these people that needed help [bothered me],” Chalmers said. “There really weren’t any resources for them in the mid-1990s.”
Chalmers removed the seats from a minivan and replaced them with bio-hazard materials inside, then began offering to clean up crime scenes and hoarders’ houses. His garage was his operational base.
“I am a fixer by nature, and I just want to help anyone,” he said.
His initiative became Steri-Clean, and A&E approached the company about doing a show on crime-scene cleanup. As part of the pilot, the station filmed Steri-Clean working in two homes where people had died.
“One of those just happened to be a hoarder home,” Chalmers said. “When A&E got the footage back, they were kind of grossed out by all of the crime scene stuff we were doing, but they were intrigued by this one house.
“We then filmed the pilot for ‘Hoarders,’ called ‘Dirty Work,’ and they loved it.”
A&E decided to add an element to the show by bringing in a psychologist to talk about the mental side of hoarding, modeling that portion of the show after its top show at the time, “Intervention.”
“It took off, and there has been this cult following of people who watch the show for eight years now,” Chalmers said.
Jon Wall was working for a pest-control company when he saw the advertisement on TV during a “Hoarders” episode about franchise opportunities with Steri-Clean. Wall was immediately interested because he also had seen the way hoarders live up close and personal in his travels as an exterminator.
He was soon training to become Steri-Clean’s Mesquite franchise owner, its first in Texas.
“I realized my grandfather was a hoarder. He lived in filth and squalor. We tried for years to help him and nothing would work,” Wall said. “Unfortunately, he [died] before I started with Steri-Clean, so this [business] has become like a personal mission for me.”
He chose to locate his business in Mesquite because he is moving to Forney and wanted a nearby location with easy highway access.
Based on the number of weekly calls the company has gotten over the years, Chalmers said he’s glad to now have a franchise in Texas, namely the Dallas area, and to have Wall leading it.
The business is committed to helping those with hoarding issues, but only if they are willing to take steps to change their situation.
“What makes us different than a junk hauler is we train our employees on the hoarding disorder and how to work with them,” Wall said. We don’t just come in and clean everything out.”
The company will pre-qualify any potential caller to make sure the person with the problem is a good candidate and is actually willing to do what needs to be done. After pre-qualification, Steri-Clean visits the home to do an estimate.
“This is a very multi-layered disorder with many underlying causes,” Chalmers noted. “We don’t want to trigger even worse behavior. We care about the person, not just the house.”
A Steri-Clean crew will sort through the items with the homeowner, separating them into donation, trash and keep piles. They also offer a follow-up program to ensure the person doesn’t go back to hoarding.
“It’s very important they follow the plan to be successful,” Chalmers said.
Steri-Clean also cleans up bio-hazards such as crime scenes, foreclosed homes that have been left in disarray and areas in need of sanitation.
“Some of the worst stuff we see is actually in foreclosed homes,” Chalmers said. “It’s amazing what some people leave behind when they walk away from them.”