Q: How might the health department get called in when there are strong odors coming from someone's house?
A: Children: My experience has been that the first question would be whether there are children in the house. If there are then social services can be called. They would then notify the public health department. Typically, a plan would be developed and a timeline set for the owner to clear the house. If the health hazards constitute a significant threat for the children, they will be removed to foster care. I have only seen this happen once in over twenty years of practice. If they remain in the home and a plan is developed, and if it is not followed, the social worker may then need to get a judge to issue an order and a consequence. Social workers may come once a week to assess progress. I have had a client who would schedule appointments on a day she knew the social worker was coming and then would tell her that she was at the therapist's office with the children. It might be another week before the social worker got back out again. In some cases, a team of helpers may come in to assist the parent in getting the home safe and clean again, but this would be rare, in my experience. Noncompliance with a judge's time lines would result in removal of the children.
Adults: If the state has elder laws and it is an elderly person, again social services may intervene. However, let's say it isn't and there is a stench coming from a home. Normally, there would need to be someone with mandated reporter status for this to be taken seriously. That would include, but not be limited to: social workers, psychologists, ministers, or health care providers. Social services would not be involved in this scenario but public health and law enforcement.
Later this week: Hoarders