When Schaumburg health officials declared 62-year-old John Wuerffel's home uninhabitable last October due to unpaid utilities, they obviously expected him to seek shelter farther away than the front driveway or backyard.
Now his neighbors and village officials are seeking relief from the clutter and cars that have grown worse and worse on the outside of the property Wuerffel still legally owns and where he still resides outside.
An Aug. 27 court hearing is expected to decide the fate of a requested court order that would allow village workers to enter the property and clean it up themselves.
Meanwhile, Schaumburg Public Health Officer Mary Passaglia remains hopeful that Wuerffel will take advantage of the month left to clean it himself.
"The more we help, the more we enable him to live this way," Passaglia said. "It's unfair to the neighbors. It's unfair to the way we treat other residents."
There have been two previous occasions in the past three years in which the village has had to intervene to cut down the clutter around Wuerffel's house - and those were before he was locked out of it, Passaglia said.
Wuerffel said he is a Vietnam veteran whose health has severely declined since 1999. He said he is on medication for both bipolar disorder and a heart condition, and that medical bills have gradually wreaked havoc with his finances over the past decade.
Wuerffel spent much of last winter sleeping in PADS shelters, or in his car by turning on the heat every couple hours. But he's hoping to be back inside his house before next winter arrives.
He said he's currently visiting the Schaumburg Park District's Atcher Island Pool a couple blocks away to shower and use the bathroom.
Wuerffel said he bought the house on the 1400 block of Hampton Lane in 1971 with his then wife, but bought out her half ownership after they divorced.
He said in addition to the $1,400 to $1,500 he owes in utilities, he owes only another $9,600 before the house is paid off. Wuerffel said he is working on a reverse mortgage that could allow him back into his house by September, and is trying to get a no-interest loan from the village for a new furnace.
But both Passaglia and Wuerffel's reverse-mortgage adviser, Mark Newton, said Wuerffel may not have realized the good-faith effort he needs to show in the cleanup of his property before either of these financial services would be available to him.
Newton works for Perl Mortgage in Deerfield, and said reverse mortgages are available to homeowners over the age of 62 who are facing the threat of foreclosure. He added that Wuerffel would seem to fall into that category perfectly, except that he needs to show more effort toward the maintenance of the property he's fighting to keep.
Newton said that according to a computer database, Wuerffel's house in good condition should be worth about $220,000. Even with the penalties he's incurred, Wuerffel should owe only about $25,000 to $30,000 to pay off the house completely, he added.
Wuerffel said he realizes he needs some assistance to get out of his current crisis, but doesn't believe his obligations extend to letting others tell him what he can or can't have on his own property.
He said he needs the thousands of empty soda cans still inside the house to sell up in Michigan, where he can get 10 cents for each.
Kellie Kiszka, who lives across the street, said neighbors are reaching the end of their rope with a problem they've already lived with far too long.
She said not only has her family had to put up with the odors coming from Wuerffel's property and the opossums and stray cats being attracted to it, but she's also angered by Wuerffel's habit of changing his clothes in front of the house when she has a young daughter.
"It's really hard not to feel sorry for him, but it's hard to live across the street from him and feel sorry for him," Kiszka said.
Schaumburg police Sgt. John Nebl said the main reason officers have visited the house in the recent past is simply to keep the peace when inspectors come to see it. He said someone caught in the act of changing their clothes in front of their house could be susceptible to disorderly conduct charges.
Wuerffel said he's been helped out with advice from time to time by Schaumburg police's social worker Kristin Jordan, but Nebl said she would probably not be at liberty to discuss any individual's case. She could not be reached for comment.