Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Legal Highs

On Monday my wife and I went to a cafe in town near to our Night Shelter. Opposite there is a shop where I know they sell legal highs. (I have this on good authority - the people who manage our Night Shelter know where the clients get their stuff.) Every now and then I would see a car pull up and a passenger would rush out into the shop and reappear very soon shoving their purchase in their pockets.  Or people would be walking along the road and take a quick diversion into the shop. I recognised some of these guys as people who had frequented our Church drop-in centre, Space2B or Christmas day dinner.  As I watched I got angry.

  1. These people cannot financially afford these drugs. They are not eating properly, not paying their rent or stealing to purchase their supply.
  2. These people already are battling life/mental health and social issues, and do not need their brains addled any more.
Let me tell you about one. He is a big guy and he visits Churches or walks up to people in the street and asks people for five dollars. If asked he will tell some sad story. He is an intimidating figure standing over you, looking down at you, with his hand out. It is only five dollars and many figure it is worth it to get rid of him, that is clever on his part. But it rewards bad behaviour and he only has to intimidate 20 people to get $100.  He has come into our Church at the end of worship, had a cup of tea, scoffed as many biscuits he can get his hands on and asked elderly ladies for five dollars in this intimidating fashion.  Most people had enough sense to refer him to me as the keeper of benevolent funds. - He knew better than to ask me.  I saw him once lifting the lid on the donation box at the church, until he saw me watching. Another time I saw him sit by a handbag, easing his hand toward it, but again he saw me watching. 
I evict him. Let me tell you how, it is a practiced process I have developed with trouble makers in the drop-in centre. I stand where they cannot help but see me and I glare at them. They keep glancing at me, only to find me still eyeballing them. He moves somewhere else, and I move and continue to glare. He knows without me saying that I know what he is up to and that I will intervene if need be. Usually the trouble maker chooses to leave or modifies their behaviour.  I think it is like a heading or eye dog herds sheep. They turn sheep and move sheep without barking, only staring.  In the same way this works without me having to make a scene or disturb the peace.  Often if you do verbally challenge behaviour all you end up with is arguments in which they lie and act innocent, and you do not have clear evidence to support your side and you are left blustering with no sting.  But "the look" gets them and communicates. I find again and again, the intentional and obvious surveillance deals with the problem, communicates your suspicions, and makes them uncomfortable, without a word spoken.  
But here is this guy, a big and dangerous guy who is getting free food from anywhere he can, bludging money from generous hearted people and buying legal highs! He has caused problems in churches, in the night shelter and on the streets. He can be quite angry and vicious. Our Night Shelter staff and anybody dealing with "street people" encounter more and more anti-social behaviour caused by "legal high" use.  As I write, there is a man in an intensive care unit who nearly died, because he experimented with legal highs. I find myself getting angry with the people who make legal highs, and the people who sell them.  They are making big money by adding to the misery on our streets. There should not be legal highs, full stop. Our society does not need them. 

Then again we need to ask, "Why do these people need legal highs?" or others their abuse of alcohol? They are self-medicating meaningless lives. Somehow we need to enable people to find meaning and hope elsewhere.

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