Shelter found for homeless man

Darney McLaughlin lived at East End beach on and off for the past 12 years

Darney McLaughlin watches television in his new home on John McLean Drive. - PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY

A homeless man who had been living rough on East End Heritage Beach now has a new place to call home.

Last week the Cayman Compass featured a story about 61-year-old Darney McLaughlin, who said he had been homeless for more than a decade. A few days after the story ran, the government’s Children and Family Services department took action.

“They just came to the beach one day and said, ‘That’s it, let’s go,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

“They helped me pack and moved all my things.”

Hooked on drugs most of his life, Mr. McLaughlin took to the beach when he could no longer afford a place to live and where, he said, he would not mess up anyone else’s life.

For the past 12 years on and off, Mr. McLaughlin has been homeless. He admitted people tried to assist him on many occasions, but he did not feel right inflicting the problems of his drug addiction on others, especially families. He just wanted a little place to call his own somewhere in East End.

“I had nowhere else to go,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I wasn’t harming anyone on the beach, but I guess it didn’t look good to others.”

Now relocated to a one-bedroom rental on John McLean Drive – his first permanent home since 2004 – Mr. McLaughlin seems happy.

“Life is real good for me now and I give God thanks,” he said. “I love it … and I even have hot water too.”

A fitting song – “Oh happy day, when Jesus washed, he washed my sins away” – blasted from the big screen television as Mr. McLaughlin watched from the comfort of his new queen size bed.

In the kitchen, the cupboards are stocked with food, and cases of water are stacked in a corner. On his bedside table lie books, cheese puffs, biscuit snacks and a Bible.

A few days earlier, Mr. McLaughlin’s bed was a piece of foam and old blanket on a tacky beach chair. A row of his suit jackets hung from the rafters of the beach cabana and his surroundings were littered with old items.

At his new home, Mr. McLaughlin said, he now knows the comfort of a soft bed, hot shower, food in the cupboards, and how many in the community are rooting for him. His suit jackets now hang neatly in a row in a walk-in closet.

“Now I don’t have to worry about waking up soaking wet and a place to lay my head. I didn’t mind the beach but having somewhere of my own is better, and then I am ill too,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin suffers from heart and high blood pressure issues, and has a pacemaker.

“I seldom go out now … I am sick, there are times I go out at night but it is very rare … once I get more DVDs to watch movies, I am all right,” he said.

Not a person usually to ask for handouts, Mr. McLaughlin said he would welcome any donated DVDs to help keep his days occupied as he fights his addiction.

“The drug use is still a struggle though,” he admits, but is quick to add, “It’s coming along slowly but not as bad as what it used to be. I try not to think about it … after being on it for so long, it becomes a habit … and you know habits are hard to break. The thing is, when you’re used to something, it is difficult and you will fall back on it. “It’s the one thing that I hate and the one thing that I do. I don’t know how to explain that.”

Living on the beach, Mr. McLaughlin would find odd jobs around the place, which he said he used to feed his habit.

“I seldom work much for that same reason, it just goes right back into drugs and I have nothing to show for it,” he said. He advises young people to “go to school and keep off drugs.”

“It’s not the way to go … anyone can do drugs but it does not help you in the long run,” he said.

Years ago, Mr. McLaughlin said, he wanted to teach kids about the dangers of using drugs. It did not happen, but he feels happy now he is getting his story out in another way.

“I am working on getting myself together, then I will decide where I want the rest of my life to go from there,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I’m still struggling with the drugs and it’s hard to think that far right now despite my good intentions. My intentions have always been to be a good person despite my bad habits.”