Beloved resident faces loss of home

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Sylvester Simpson sits on the steps of his home in the Bruce Community. The house has recently been condemned and community members are looking for solutions to help Sylvester keep his home and address his organizational issues.

Sylvester Simpson is well known in the Dyersburg community.

The 39-year-old rides his bike throughout town and is often on hand to help with community initiatives or encourage others in times of need.

He regularly lends a hand at charitable events like the Feed the Need food distribution and his appearance in the Dyersburg Christmas Parade is always a favorite. One year, Sylvester walked the Dyersburg parade route in the cold winter weather in his bare feet, carrying a full-size cross on his back and rendering those attending the parade speechless.

Throughout the Dyer County community, Sylvester is regarded as a helper and a man with strong Christian values. But many in the community don't know that he was almost a television star.

Sylvester was recently a candidate to appear on the show, "Hoarders" on A&E. The opportunity came when Matthew 25:40 Executive Director Amy McDonald searched the Internet for a way to help Sylvester with his organizational issues in an effort to save his home.

Sylvester has not been able to live in his home for the past two years because of his organizational issues.

Sylvester's house in the Bruce Community first belonged to his grandmother, Irene Johnson. He grew up in the home and he lived there with his father, Raymond Brown. When his father died, Sylvester lived in the house alone.

But organizational issues have stopped Sylvester from living in the home for the past two years. When his collections filled the yard and he received notices from the city, Sylvester said he often took the bags from the yard inside the house.

Other times, the city cleaned the yard for him. When the house filled, he added storage buildings to the backyard and stayed in the office of a local business to help look after things at night. When the storage sheds were filled, the collection moved to the yard once again.

Eventually the home was condemned, with the city citing the structure full of trash and debris as a health hazard.

"I have a place to stay," said Sylvester. "But not a home. Home is where your dogs are, where your mail comes. I thank (Dyersburg) Mayor (John) Holden and the Codes Department for their patience and willingness to work with me. It just got out of hand."

As Sylvester faced the possibility of losing his home, McDonald tried to find a solution that would not only address the cleanup, but the reasons behind the organizational issues.

Sylvester Simpson stops to pose for a picture with Matthew 25:40 Executive Director Amy McDonald at a photo shoot to be considered for the show, 'Hoarders' on A&E.

To appear on "Hoarders", Sylvester had to agree to undergo counseling. The two-part solution seemed the perfect answer to save Sylvester's home and allow him to live inside it for many years to come.

On Friday, McDonald learned that the show filled its season without Sylvester's story. Hollywood would not ride in to save the day.

"(I thank) the Hoarder show and Amy McDonald and the State Gazette," said Sylvester. "We all were expecting the Hoarder show people to come, but unfortunately not. I thank God for the show even though it didn't come through. My main concern is being able to keep the land so that hopefully in the future I will be able to sell this lot and get some land somewhere else. I need to be able to relocate and have something to relocate with."

Many residents in the community who would love to help Sylvester are simply wondering what they can do.

Cleaning up the property and the home would be an extensive project - and one that comes with the possibility of additional landfill fees. But even if residents rallied to clear the lot and save the structure, Sylvester would still struggle with his organizational issues.

Still open to counseling, Sylvester hopes for a chance to pay off what he owes the city and begin again.

"I thank the city for their patience," said Sylvester. "That has really been a blessing. I am not trying to get out of paying what I owe."

So if Hollywood won't come calling, maybe residents of Dyersburg touched by this beloved member of the community can join together to help Sylvester work toward his own happy ending. Those interested in offering solutions, service, donations or helping in any way may contact McDonald at 286-9054.

What is hoarding disorder?

To understand the issue of hoarding, it might be best to clarify misconceptions about the disorder. Dr. Christiana Bratiotis of Boston University School of Social Work's Hoarding Research Project recently helped with that in a phone interview with the State Gazette.

Dr. Bratiotis earned her doctoral degree in the interdisciplinary social work and sociology program from the School of Social Work in May 2009. In 2006, she was awarded a one year pre-dissertation fellowship from the Charles H. Farnsworth Trust of Boston to study community responses to public cases of compulsive hoarding. She has presented over 70 invited community lectures and agency clinical trainings on treatment of compulsive disorders and authored "Compulsive Hoarding in Older Adults," a computer-based social work training program.

The issue of hoarding is not rare.

A study conducted through Boston University in 2008 shows the disorder affects 5 percent of the U.S. population - or approximately 6 million Americans.

"(That is) an enormous number," said Dr. Christiana Bratiotis of Boston University School of Social Work's Hoarding Research Project. "(This is) not an unusual situation. It is a problem with widespread prevalence, affecting a lot of communities."

Bratiotis said communities across North America are coming together around the issue of hoarding, forming task forces consisting of a mix of public and private entities. These task forces often have representatives from public health, housing and mental health services who wish to address the problem of hoarding in their communities.

"(These task forces) come together to strategize and work in a collaborative way," said Bratiotis. "There are over 85 task forces in North America, in the U.S. and Canada. When I started in this (field) eight years ago there were five."

Sylvester's collection fills his home, two storage sheds and the majority of his lot in the Bruce Community.

Bratiotis said three aspects define a hoarding disorder:

First, the resident acquires too many things.

"(These are things) that actually look to most people like they don't have a lot of value," said Bratiotis. "But what we know by talking to people who are hoarding is that these items have tremendous value to them."

Next, the amount of items collected begins to interfere with the person being able to use their home in the way it was intended.

"(The collector) may not be able to sleep in their bed," said Bratiotis. "(Or he) may not be able to use the bathtub or kitchen sink (for the purpose they were designed for)."

And last, the amount of objects collected actually causes the person distress or interferes with the way he conducts his life. The person may be distressed by the number of items or be distressed by neighbors or family members who have a problem with the accumulated items.

"There is sometimes a lack of awareness," said Bratiotis. "They are not the ones troubled with the problem."

Bratiotis reminds residents that a hoarding disorder is not simply the result of someone who was not trained in organization as a child, nor is it the result of a traumatic situation.

"It is a complicated picture, the factors that contribute to the onset (of hoarding). We know there are many contributors," said Bratiotis, who said the Boston University study found genetics play a part in those with the condition and functional MRIs show differences in the brain activity between people who hoard and those who do not. "Hoarding is conceptualized as a mental illness. This is not a problem of laziness, lack of standards, or immorality. He isn't choosing this way of life, it is a mental illness like schizophrenia or depression. It is a complex picture. Again, he is not choosing this."

Bratiotis said hoarding is currently being considered for classification as a mental illness.

"Hoarding refers to the volume of possessions," said Bratiotis, who said the disorder does not always equal squalor or neglect of the structure of the home. "It is important to note that (collectors) can have a perfectly clean home that just has too many things. (However) these are not often the cases that come to public attention."

Bratiotis said helping residents with a hoarding disorder is two-fold. It is not only about meeting the need, it is about creating a long-term solution.

"Cleaning out the place is the short term fix," said Bratiotis. "It can prevent condemnation, homelessness - it is first step. (But) simply moving the person to a new location or simply removing the clutter is not a solution. We have good research that concludes (you must) address underlying beliefs and emotions. (There are) a whole host of reasons that people save these objects. There is a reason for everything and not only are there strong reasons, but there are strong emotions. (It is essential to) address the underlying reasons about why they are saving these objects."

Bratiotis said research shows the benefit of an in-home coach or mental health specialist. Residents with a hoarding disorder who clean up their home without addressing the reasons behind it find the clutter comes back quicker and more abundantly.

Resources available for more information on hoarding can be found at "The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Service," a book written by Bratiotis and Gail Steketee is an additional tool. The book is filled with case studies, tips and strategies, and easy-to-use suggestions for professionals responding to hoarding situations.

Additional information for this article was obtained from

View 23 comments
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • He dose not throw any thing away

    He ased to have his dogs tied to his bike as he travled arond town,the humane society complained

    he has ben a fixture in town and in the county for several years now

    At a store I worked at he would let us know of shoplifting and use to keep an eye on bread set off in the wee hours of the day and would stop anyone from bothering it

    If there is away to help him lets do it

    -- Posted by tank2 on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 8:49 AM
  • I am not sure if there is a man who walks with and as close to Christ everyday, as Slyvester. He would give you the shirt off his back.

    The community is watching, what are "WE" going to do?

    -- Posted by ukwildcats on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 9:21 AM
  • We love you Sylvester. You have always been there for us and we are going to be there for you. We will do anything that we can to help you!!!!!

    -- Posted by King on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 1:30 PM
  • Instead of talking about helping him, you talkers need to actually help him by letting him live with you or paying the city to look the other way so he can move back into his house. You could also let him fill your houses with his garbage, or send him to school to teach him how to put his garbage in the garbage can, trash in the trash can, and waste in the wastebasket. I came up with solutions while you do-nothings did absolutely nothing.

    -- Posted by Ben Wilson on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 3:58 PM
  • Wow, I dont usually comment on others opinions or post because everyone is entitled to their opinion regardless of how it sounds or who it may impact. I will just comment on this, Sylvester is a good person, know him personally and yes he will give you the shirt off your back literally, it's always good when you recognize you have a problem, he could have just said, I will let the city or whoever clean it up, or screw it and just leave, he does want help!!! I will help him in anyway I can, however I can... If you have ever came in contact with Sylvester you would know what type of person he is!!! God is good and He will fight this battle as well...

    -- Posted by titans2 on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 5:44 PM
  • the city will probably end up treating him as they did bro william hobson. demolishing his home, his rental property, chained the doors to his church shut, then eventually demoloishing the church, too.

    -- Posted by closerlook on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 6:13 PM
  • Ok Ben. Really? Normally I would find your comments somewhat comical but you are not funny this time. Take it easy on him... he's a bigger person than you seem to be. Sylvester would never intentionally hurt anyone or their feelings.

    -- Posted by dyercoresident on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 8:12 PM
  • Lat's stand together as a community and go out and give our time unselfishly to help him clean up his property. There's something we can do to help this fellow Christian.

    -- Posted by Nanna Bell on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 11:58 PM
  • your mouth has the power of life and death and you will eat the fruit thereof

    -- Posted by seahawk1 on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 12:07 AM
  • Don't feed the trolls.

    -- Posted by K Ray on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 8:27 AM
  • The man is a Hoarder Ben. It is a real mental disorder. As far as just helping him clean his house it is more complicated than that. I hope the man gets the help he needs. The people in his neighborhood should help him out from the comments I've read he seems to have contributive so much to ya'll.It seems to me it's time to pay him back.

    -- Posted by R_Henson on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 11:24 AM
  • Hobson had a full grown tree growing thru the middle of his house.. difference in being a slob and having a mental disorder... Sylvester needs help... He won't ask. he hust minds his own buisiness.Henson is right on... So, it's time for the citizens to reach out and help, not only to sly, but others in need in Dyersburg..

    -- Posted by DMASE on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 1:05 PM
  • dmas, you are absolutely wrong--not just incorrect, but dead wrong! hobson did not have a tree growing through the middle of his house, but i have seen a tree growing in the middle of a house. it belonged to bill and joanne ward (former owners of wdsg radio station), it was located (still is, i suppose) in latta woods. for some reason, no one wanted to demolish their house. so having a real live tree in the middle of ones house doesn't mean it should be demolished.

    -- Posted by closerlook on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 7:19 PM
  • Tomorrow morning the house is going to be torn down. The house has been inhabitable for the past two years. The clutter throughout the whole house is about 6 feet tall. To clean out the home by anyone other than professionals would be dangerous to health of the volunteers. This became very clear today. On Sunday morning starting at 8am we will clean the back part of the yard and the storage sheds out. This will allow him to keep his sheds. Renovating the home is not an option. Over the past several days there has been several calls about raising money, volunteer labor for clean up and skilled labor, and donating money. I believe that with what has been offered that we will be able to either purchase and renovate a home or build a small home for him. A meeting date will be posted as soon as one is set.

    There will also be a meeting tomorrow to begin on the process of dealing with the intervention and case work that will have to follow. Professional Care Services has come forward to help. Please keep Sylvester in your prayers, he is going to have a rough day tomorrow.

    -- Posted by dyercoresident on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 8:20 PM
  • Thanks SadieSue for the update.. Its sad but at least he will get the help he deserves. He is a good man and it takes a strong person to admit that you want and need help. Will keep him in my prayers and of course with God all things are possible!!!

    -- Posted by titans2 on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 9:15 PM
  • As I sit and read this article from a distant land It really made me think.

    When you first read the article you would think Sylvester needs help.His home is falling apart, the city says they will tear it down, he is a Hoarder and he needs mental help. This is what it appears to be but as I read and God opened my heart more I begin to see the real story here.

    God isn't looking for people to come to rescue a home or to clean a yard or to help a man they think has mental issues.Its deeper than this.

    As I read the article some people stated so very interesting words:

    1.Throughout the Dyer County community, Sylvester is regarded as a helper and a man with strong Christian values.

    2.He regularly lends a hand at charitable events like the Feed the Need food distribution.

    3.I am not sure if there is a man who walks with and as close to Christ everyday, as Slyvester. He would give you the shirt off his back.

    These are things people said over and over again concerning him.

    When he found out the show "Hoarders" was not going to come to help him: this was his remarks" "(I thank) the Hoarder show and Amy McDonald and the State Gazette," said Sylvester. "We all were expecting the Hoarder show people to come, but unfortunately not. I thank God for the show even though it didn't come through.

    Sylvester then says to the city of dyersburg after he finds out they will destroy his home ""I thank the city for their patience," said Sylvester. "That has really been a blessing. I am not trying to get out of paying what I owe." he blessed the city instead of cursing it.

    This man is Meek, Humble,Kind,Caring,he gives his time to others, he never made an excuse for his home.

    One year, Sylvester walked the Dyersburg parade route in the cold winter weather in his bare feet, carrying a full-size cross on his back.How many people have you known to show the love of God by walking barefoot in the cold while carrying a cross.He didn't make a speech, he didn't have a fancy float or a nice car to carry the cross in.He carried it on his back. How many of us make a stand for Christ? How many of us don't even stand up at a sporting event for Christ. We won't even walk a half a mile with shoes, coat and gloves to worship Christ.

    Oh this story is about Dyersburg and not this young man.The lack of action will be judged.God does not need the people of Dyersburg to clean up and repair a home for Sylvester,because Sylvester already has a mansion prepared for him in heaven, his name is already written in the Lambs book of life.God is asking what will you do for the least of my brethren? Will you stand in the Gap or will you make excuses? Will you show the love of Jesus or will you show the love of the world. This young man does not need our help we need his help.

    Now I ask as a Christian is this not what Jesus asks us to do.

    I will close with this passage from God's Word:

    Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

    42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

    43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

    Have a Blessed day from Germany.

    -- Posted by austin on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 11:36 PM
  • austin,

    u are absolutely right! of course, bro hobson was a christian, a pastor w/a church, etc, etc. and the city busted him worse than they have ever trated drug dealers!! wiped him from the earth, and demolished all his possessions, driving him to bankruptsy. all the city is interested in is making up codes, so thay can destroy folks of their choice.

    -- Posted by closerlook on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 6:37 AM
  • No one denied rev Hobson of pastorialship, or being a christian.... Scripture says all fall short of the glory.... When u got a eye sore property and junk everywhere, You can't expect a neighbor to want to live around that.... Slowly watching their property value go down.... and closer... yes a tree.....

    -- Posted by DMASE on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 2:24 PM
  • one man's junk is another man's gold. everytime i ever visited w/hobson, which was often, he was at work building and reparing that house (those houses & the church). the city code workers kept telling him to tear this or that down, etc, etc, etc. john lannom asked me one day "would you want to live in that house?" (we were at hobson's door steps). i told lannom, "no, i would not, but you probably wouldn't want to live in mine."

    it is a total disgrace what the bank and the city did to this man. i attended so-called code inspectors open meetings. many of them were employees or had strong ties to the bank and the city. the city in truth had no legal reason to enter his property, so they invented one. yes, really invented one. shame on every last one of them.

    -- Posted by closerlook on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 7:30 PM
  • -- Posted by dyercoresident on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 8:14 PM
  • This is nit about Rev Hobson. Sylvestor neesds help. And as a "christian community we need to all help. Especially the churchs,and local guidance counslers. Mayor also.

    -- Posted by sassy52 on Mon, Apr 2, 2012, at 6:34 PM
  • A meeting is scheduled for April 10th, 7pm at Tucker St Church's Daniel Hall. We will discuss Sylvester's immediate need, challenges of the current property, fundraising and rebuild. Hope to see you there and thank you so much!!!

    -- Posted by dyercoresident on Tue, Apr 3, 2012, at 12:11 PM
  • I think it's fantastic that your community is rallying round to support Sylvester. It sounds like he wants to address the problem, which is half of the battle. I wish you, and Sylvester, every success.

    -- Posted by Rachel Papworth @greenandtidy on Tue, Apr 3, 2012, at 4:23 PM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: