His bed is a piece of foam and old blanket on an tacky beach chair inside a beach cabana; above him, a row of neatly arrayed suit jackets hanging from the ceiling flap in the wind. His surroundings are littered – a broken bicycle, an old television, books, food containers, an empty cologne bottle and a lamp without a bulb. These are the meager possessions of 61-year-old Darney McLaughlin, who lives on the beach at East End Heritage Park.
He has been homeless for more than 12 years, living on the beach where he says he knows he will not mess up anyone else’s life.
Growing up, he wanted to have his own business. He landed a job in government, became a carpenter by trade and learned all about construction – then, one day, a sniff of cocaine changed all that.
“It’s no joke, getting hooked on coke is no good business. I’m still fighting the drugs, that’s why I am homeless,” he said.
It’s not that people do not try to help him, he admitted.
“[Rehab] doesn’t seem to help,” he said. “[I go] for a week or two, [then] right back to doing drugs again.
“You can say what you want in there, but when you get back in the environment, it’s a different thing – especially when there is no help behind you. [You’re] back one day and you just continue on the same path.
“This drug is something really serious, I wouldn’t want nobody to go on it. I just tried it one day and found out that it’s 99 percent you will like it. That fact remains,” he said.
Mr. McLaughlin did rent a place for a while, but after being on and off drugs for years, he could no longer afford it.
“The coke will take everything from you once you get into it,” he said.
When the rains come, Mr. McLaughlin heads to the public bathroom and stays the night in there, shielding himself from the rain and wind. He’s back outside as soon as the rain stops. When functions are held on the beach, people clear his stuff away, then he moves it back when they are finished.
He doesn’t go hungry, he says, as people give him food. He says he has been offered places to stay, but the beach is his home now.
“I have nowhere else to go,” he said. “I’m not harming anyone and the beach is nice and cool.”
He has not been fully employed for many years, but is given temporary work by people in the community. Recently, he was using his construction skills to work on a cement wall on John McLean Drive. Working is not a problem, he says, it’s just that he cannot work without the drugs, and when he gets paid, the dealers get most of his money.
He said at one time he had hopes of teaching local children about the dangers of drugs, but it was such a long time ago that some of the kids he was supposed to teach now have grandchildren.
Mr. McLaughlin says he wishes he had someone behind him who really cared. Being an addict, he says, means you will make mistakes and fall, but having someone there to catch you goes a long way.
He hasn’t always been on his own. He once lived with a partner and has one child, he says.
He suffers from heart and high blood pressure issues. Some time ago, walking down the road was a challenge, but he is getting better after receiving assistance to get a pacemaker.
“I can’t really blame anyone for my downfall. That is my mistake,” he said.
“I can say it is a bad addiction. The more I get, the more I want, and when I do get it, it’s the only thing I don’t want to do that I do.”