Serial Pest in the Neighborhood
by Nina Duffield
Visitor Question: We have a member of our community who has a slight mental disability, but more behavioral problems, who constantly abuses people.
The organisation that has care of her has put her into a residential house because she upsets the other clients.
I have been asked to start a petition to force this organisation to do something about her behavior. Is this legal to do?
Editors' Reply: This sounds like a very unfortunate situation. An organization is placing her in a residential neighborhood because they cannot cope with her in an institutional setting, if we understand this correctly.
If you are asking if it is legal to start a petition about this situation, the answer is almost certainly, if this petition is only a request and not a legal document of some type.
If the petition has a legal effect, it would be best to consult an attorney of course.
What we understand though is that you and the people who would be signing the petition simply are expressing your opinion, in an effort to change the mind and heart of the organization that is locating the poorly behaved multi-issue person in your neighborhood.
You also may be trying to make an impression on a local government, such as a village or town, if you feel as though they can help you do something about the issue.
You are free to start a petition to try to influence someone, a corporation, or a government in almost all democratic countries.
Occasionally circulating a petition is an unwise tactic that might backfire and make the organization actually become resistant to your arguments and decide to become more entrenched in keeping the mentally and behaviorally challenged individual out of their facility. So you do have to consider that possibility.
Have you tried a simple meeting before going to the work of carrying a petition around the neighborhood? If not, this would be a smart move. Often people assume that a situation cannot be changed when actually there is some room for compromise. A business or non-profit organization may even back down if they realize that their decisions are making a negative impact on a neighborhood and creating some disgruntled potential clients or customers.
If face-to-face negotiation either is refused or is not fruitful, though, there is no harm at all in starting a petition.
If you do write a petition, it would be helpful to cite very briefly two or three instances of when this person's misbehavior harmed the neighborhood or became a real nuisance. Usually we like short petitions, but since you are trying to influence an organization that may not be fully aware of what is happening, examples would be good.
Another good tip would be to consult with an any local advocacy group for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled that may be nearby. There is some risk they would side with the disruptive person (the "serial pest") but unless they are totally unreasonable, they may have suggestions about helpful ways to confront the annoying behavior in the neighborhood.
Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter, called USEFUL COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, rural environments, and our international friends. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.