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Kendall Worth: More on security guards and police harassing poor people with mental health issues

Random security guards in a random mall

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – You readers of the Nova Scotia Advocate may remember this story here: In Halifax police and security guards are harassing poor people with mental health issues. In it I write about three welfare recipients who fidget, talk to themselves, or do other involuntary body behaviours.

This follow-up on that story is about the person who got spoken to by security guards about yelling and swearing at people walking by while he was waiting for his friend. He was not identified by name in the story and he still does not want to be named.

When he, along with three other welfare recipients went to complain to security supervisors, mall management, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and police they were not taken seriously and nothing was done. 

For two more stories I wrote about inappropriate body language, see Another story of harassment of poor people with mental health issues by police and security guards in Halifax, and Complaining about harassment by police and security guards gets you nowhere

Anyway, this man recently met up with me again, accompanied by a financially better off married couple who are friends of his from way back. While sitting down with them for coffee, I learned that one of his friends was in the past a welfare recipient herself, but got herself off the system. 

He told me that he often gets spoken to about swearing at people, fidgeting, and behaving like he is intoxicated even though he does not drink. He also told me how his anxiety goes up when all he is doing is minding his own business and not causing any trouble but nonetheless a private security guard or police officer approaches him and speaks to him about his behaviour.

The most recent incident  was while he was sitting in a mall food court waiting for his friends he was meeting. He knew they were going to be there in about 10 minutes or so. 

While he was just sitting at the mall food court, minding his own business, not causing trouble, and waiting for his friends to arrive, mall security approached him. 

He tried to social-distance himself from the security, which is what we are all supposed to be doing these days, whether you are rich or poor. 

The first thing the security guard said to him was that “social distancing protocols do not apply when we have to approach and speak to someone about a complaint we have received.”

Then the security guard asked him, “Because you are not eating or drinking anything, what are you even doing here anyway?”

Of course the welfare recipient answered: “I am waiting to meet up with my friends who should be here in about 10 minutes or so, and  I am just minding my own business and not causing trouble.”

“Yeah, well, the thing is we have received complaints that you were swearing at people and that you are behaving intoxicated, the security guards said. 

“We need to advise you that the people who complained are not feeling comfortable with your behaviour. If you are sure your friends, who you say you are meeting, are going to be here in 10 minutes we can wait with you until they arrive, but then you will need to leave the mall premises immediately unless you can keep your behaviour under control,” they said.

It was thanks to this friend that he found the solution to keep his anxiety under control when he gets spoken to by police and private security. 

His doctor wrote a letter to his caseworker at Community Services saying  that he needs a cellphone so that he can call the mobile crisis unit from wherever he is when he needs to.

So now, with the help of his friends arranging the donation of a cell phone, and the money to pay for it he has a way to call for help when his anxiety goes up.

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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