Two months after the TV show Hoarders removed truckloads of items from her Westside Santa Cruz house on Continental Street, Verna Carter, 63, is still staring at piles of junk.
This lifelong resident of Santa Cruz, has been many things over the course of her life, including a police officer and a criminal, but last Monday night, Carter, her family, and her home were put under the spotlight by Hoarders A&E's popular Emmy award winning documentary series. It can be seen online here.
'Hoarders' intimately examines the lives of people whose "...inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis," according to the show's website.
The show is a kind of intervention which involves confrontation of the hoarder by their friends and family, as well as a team of psychologists, professional organizers, and cleaning crews.
Verna Carter said that in her case, however, 'Hoarders' hasn't held up its end of the bargain. According to Carter, 'Hoarders' failed to do a proper clean-up job on her house "because they just ran out of trucks."
"They didn't even get upstairs to my attic," she said
If nothing else, Monday's episode of 'Hoarders' was a testament to just how much stuff there was to be cleaned out of Carter's Westside home. The show brought viewers on an all-too-detailed tour through the maze of boxes and old furniture that guarded the front door, and into Carter's home which was so full that she had been forced up a rickety painter's ladder into her attic bed to sleep at night, a dangerous feat of coordination for a woman of her age and limited mobility.
Rotten food, useless furniture, and dead rodents were abundant in Carter's home and yard.
Monday's show ended with footage of Carter marveling in amazement at how her home transformed, but while the episode aired, her front yard remained a disheveled mess.
Clean-up crews are still in the process of mitigating Carter's hoard, more than two months after film crews left the area. Carter thinks that 'Hoarders' got in over its head.
"Truthfully, they did not realize how much stuff their was at my house.I feel that if they had gone in beforehand and seen how it was, they would have said 'no'."
Carter was an officer with the Santa Cruz Police Department and patrolled the Boardwalk in the 70's, a crack-cocaine dealer in the 80's, an inmate in Chowchilla women's prison in the early 90's, and a model for painters and artists in the ensuing decades.
Eventually, however, Carter's identity became so wrapped up in compulsive collecting, a habit which filled her Westside home to the brim with assorted debris, that it put a dangerous strain on her friends, family, and her own health. The drama surrounding this struggle is where the show draws it true appeal, aside from the shock value which comes from its examination of peoples out-of-control homes.
While Monday's episode was fraught with conflict between Carter and her daughter, off-camera there was another crisis in Carter's family.
On Christmas Day, while the show's film crews were still present, Carter's brother Xavior Anthony 'Tony' Guliford, 61, committed suicide in his house several doors down the street by suffocating himself with helium gas. Carter said she didn't think it was connected to the show, however other friends suspect it was no coincidence that he chose to take his life while the show was still filming at his sister's house.
"Tony was Tony, and if he hadn't done it Dec. 25, he would have done it the year after or the year after or the year after that," said Carter. "He was unhappy, and I think he was just in one of his moods. He had major mood swings, oh boy, did he ever have mood swings."
Her brother's suicide was mentioned on the show only as 'a death in the family,' and the real drama of Monday's episode arose from how differently Carter sees her lifestyle from those around her.
"Now, I'm not actually a hoarder. Another couple of months, and I would have been," she said, only half-joking. "I'm an artist and a collector. A craftsperson."
Hoarder or not, Carter brings the age-old adage 'one person's trash is another's treasure' to its limit.
"Not everything in there was trash," Carter said, defending her collection. "They threw out my couch because a rat had nested in one end of it. Now, personally, myself, I wouldn't have thrown it away. What you do is you get in there and sew it back up. The damn thing cost 40 bucks!"
Carter said she never would have been involved with 'Hoarders' if her daughter, Rhonda Carter, 41, a bus driver for Santa Cruz Metro, had not intervened.
"They (the show) didn't come to us. We went to them. Rhonda chased them for months to come because of what it would cost to haul all the stuff away."
On the show's third day of clean-up, Verna Carter's unmovable attachment to her hoard collided with her daughter's unstoppable will to clean her mother's house. At the show's climax, Verna Carter bowed to the pressure and handed the rein's to her daughter.
"She (Rhonda) knows it is a problem for me, with access and my safety and all that, all my stuff. She knows that I won't be able to clean it up, regardless of what I say, I'm probably not going to get it cleaned up. She's probably right, and so I walked away from it. At that point I didn't really care what they took and what they didn't; I just didn't want to alienate myself any more from my daughter.
"I didn't want to destroy the relationship I have with my daughter. We have a very good relationship; it gets fragile at times, which is why I decided to just step back and let her run the show."
Carter can relate to her daughter's frustration with her hoard. Her mother, who lives across the street, is also a long time compulsive hoarder.
"I was alienated from my mother because she locked her house and wouldn't let anyone in to clean it," Carter said. "At one time, all 13 rooms in the house were completely filled with stuff. There was no way to get in there short of kicking the door down. I didn't want the kind of relationship I have with my mother, with my daughter."
The clean-up went more smoothly under Rhonda Carter's control, and the show ended on a hopeful note, hinting that Verna may soon be able to return to her home.
While Carter holds 'Hoarders' in pretty low regard, she does look forward to the possibility of returning home.
In the mean time, Carter resides in a Santa Cruz convalescent home, where she undergoes treatment for diabetes, and meets regularly with a psychologist provided by the show.
"For me, he is just someone to talk to. He may get something out of it, but not me. Maybe eventually I will. It's my daughter who wants me to go to all of these things. She is concerned about me, she thinks the shrink will help. So I go."