Every night before I go to bed I check that my front and back doors are locked. I look out the windows in the front and back doors to see if anything looks…wrong…
One night in late fall I noticed something very odd happening behind the business across the street. There was a guy wandering around, talking, gesturing to himself. He had taken the pallets beside the loading area, and had set up sort of a corrall. He was pacing back and forth like this was a military operation.
I watched him for awhile. I assumed that if he was going to bed down for the night that he would settle in. He didn’t seem like he was waiting for anybody to show up. Periodically he stopped to smoke something in a glass pipe. Crack, meth, I don’t know.
This was a few weeks after the fire behind the gas station. There had been numerous arson incidents in the immediate area in the following weeks. The fire behind the gas station didn’t seem to fit the pattern. Numerous small fires had been set directly adjacent to houses using gasoline as an accelerant. Contents in the back of a truck and in someone’s yard had been set ablaze. This was happening around 3:30 or 4:00 on the morning, as experienced by one first hand witness. The police didn’t inform local residents of anything but word of the arsons lit up Facebook. The witness was on the local news, after he put the fire at his neighbour’s out.
Whoever this guy was, I hadn’t seen him before.
I was concerned that he had possibly arranged the wood pallets to ignite them. He didn’t seem to be using them to arrange a sleeping situation. He had some sort of long metal rod that he was swinging around in an aggressive fashion.
I wondered if I should wake up the business owner who lived across the street to let him know what was happening behind his property ? It was late and all his lights were out. The weird behaviour happening was worrisome, but I couldn’t understand what might be going on, and if it was breaking any sort of law.
When the guy took out a hack saw, and started sawing up something I started to feel quite concerned. I called the local homeless outreach. The woman I spoke to was dismissive about my concerns, like I was some kind of NIMBY, and explained to me that often homeless people make small fires to keep warm, as though I didn’t know this. I explained to her about the cluster of recent arsons happening in the immediate area. No one set those fires for warmth, but there also didn’t seem to be any obvious connections between where they had been set except a general vicinity.
I called the police non-emergency number and it took quite awhile to get through. Maybe their message said it was unstaffed during the night, I don’t remember. When I did speak to the dispatch, I explained what I was observing. The guy was sawing up something with a hacksaw, at 2:00 a.m. behind a local business in an area with a lot of bizarre and petty crime. One nearby business had their central air conditioning unit sawn into and stripped of the copper overnight. The thieves probably got $ 20 worth of scrap from a $ 10,000 commercial unit.
Eventually the police came by and spoke to the guy for a few minutes. After they left, the guy remained, flailing his long metal rod around, and smoking more of whatever it was.
A couple of women showed up in a vehicle and spent a long time talking to him. I assume the police called the same homeless outreach I had previously spoken to. At that point I had been watching this unnerving drama for at least an hour. If the police AND homeless outreach couldn’t do anything, then there was nothing to be done, so I went to bed. I sincerely hoped he was not the fire starter.
The next morning the business was open, and his pile of belongings had been moved to the bottom of their driveway. He was still around. Eventually he was gone. I went over to the business to speak to them about what had happened the night before. They just kind of shrugged. The owner said that the guy had a really scary sign on his cart of stuff. They told him to move along, which he did at an extremely slow pace.
When I walked to the library in the opposite direction, I discovered the very large cart of stuff stashed beside the loading bay of the factory next door. The guy wasn’t around, so I had a chance to get a good look at his sign.
It looked like it had been fingerpainted into a scrap of plywood.
This is what it said: “Don’t touch my things or I’ll find you and strip your skin like bacon hogtie you with your loved ones guts and rape you with your own intestines “
The cart of junk was marooned in this location for several days with no scary owner, then one day it was gone.
What’s the right response to this ?
A seemingly homeless guy with psychotic delusions is concerned about his stuff. Police and homeless outreach do not feel this individual is enough of a threat, and does not seem to be violating any laws, and is not taken into custody.
But this sign made specific violent threats including rape !
I guess the location behind the business was too bothersome for him to return to, which was fine by me.
The local arsons seem to have resumed in late January. I contacted a local FB poster about the most recent arson post and there was some back and forth. I told her about the gas station fire and the creepy sign. I gave my permission to post the photo of the sign.
Somehow this morphed into a tale that I am an elderly woman who found this sign in my yard ! Most people reacted to the content of the sign which IS deeply disturbing. There was some blustering. According to FB I “called someone” and “had the sign removed” which never happened.
The sign moved on, with the owner of the cart of crap, and is probably scaring anyone else who bothers to read it.
But what is acceptable ? Was I just bothered by someone being visibly mentally ill in public ? What are the actual options for this person ? There is a deeply psychotic woman in the area, involved in local street prostitution. She can be periodically observed screaming vulgar obscenities as she rages down the street, in combat with invisible entities. This is not the same woman as the shouting woman with the limp. They shout different things and the woman with the limp sobs a lot.
One of them passed by when I was speaking with a local social worker type. I asked what the options were – and she told me that unless that woman was threatening someone – or was threatening to end her own life, that there was nothing any police officer, paramedic, etc. could do to take her into some sort of mental health observation/custody. Even though her behaviour was disruptive, troubling, frightening even. She has the legal autonomy to reject care.
The flip side of this is the many harrowing tales of psychiatric coercion and abuse reported by psychiatric survivors.
I felt uncomfortable watching the unpredictable guy. I didn’t want him seeing me seeing him, in case he connected the dots that I called the police, from my address.
Should have I called the police ?
I don’t even know what the correct thing to do is anymore.
Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland” (about the connection between the opioid crisis, black tar heroin and the various dealers and social fallout) recently published a piece in The Atlantic, called “I Don’t Know That I Would Even Call it Meth Anymore” (Oct. 18, 2021). He investigates the chemistry of a new variety of meth, based on old fashioned production methods, that is inducing profound schizophrenia-like symptoms in users. I am not a chemist, so many of the particulars were over my head. What he was describing seemed eerily familiar to what I had been observing locally. I first noticed this with the women stuck in street prostitution in this area. This is not the west coast of the USA, as described in the piece, but the fallout sounded identical. When they first showed up they were pretty normal acting. They were women over the age of 25 who were on the streets day and night. The background behind who they are and why they were now doing prostitution in this area (pimps ? dealer debt ? gangs ?)was unknown to me. When I tried to speak with other local residents, they were dismissive of the women, that they were all just a big problem who were there by some kind of “choice”. I noticed how quickly several of the women deteriorated – from looking like a stressed out, fearful woman, who hated this “work” to completely incoherent and unpredictable women. The kind you wouldn’t sit next to on the bus, talking to themselves, with crazy makeup. The kind shouting and raging down the street.
Like the guy who attacked the dogs nearby, who the police also wouldn’t do anything about.
Like this sign painter, a local writer.