One hand twitches into a half-fist as he tugs at the bright green tarp that’s meant to protect him from the weather.
It’s Tuesday afternoon. The temperature will reach 29 degrees before the day’s over. Darrell Haughain, 59, is lying on the grass in front of the red brick public washroom building at Lions Park.
“My nerve damage is getting worse and worse. It’s getting to a point where I can’t hardly move my leg,” Haughain says.
He talks about the spasms that take over his whole body.
“There’s no place for me to go.”
‘He wants to be in PoCo’
Standing in semi-circle 20 feet from Haughain are two Port Coquitlam bylaw officers, a social worker from Fraser Health and a pair of outreach workers from Hope for Freedom Society. They know Haughain. They’re worried.
Amanda F. was just starting her career as an outreach worker in late-summer 2020 when she crossed paths with Haughain.
He was funny in a sarcastic way. He liked to “poke and prod at you,” she remembers.
He got around in his wheelchair. He seemed smart, she says, like someone who was able to maintain.
For a while, he did. But at some point he switched from alcohol to fentanyl.
“It’s readily available,” Amanda explains grimly. “Everything went downhill from there.”
There are days she fears the worst, she says.
On Tuesday morning she saw the tarp over Haughain.
She says three words crossed her mind: “Today’s the day.”
“I hate to say it, but a little part of me felt a little bit of relief,” Amanda says, blinking a couple times. “I don’t want him to suffer.”
He can’t get in and out of his wheelchair anymore. He has trouble concentrating. Still, there are times when Haughain is lucid. And even when nodding off he’s courteous.
When Amanda says she can’t hear him, he makes a visible effort to raise his voice. “I’m so sorry,” he calls.
It’s in moments like those when Amanda sees flashes of the guy she met last year. When his eyes open wide and he gives her a little smile.
“I see potential. I see hope,” Amanda says.
On Monday, Amanda helped move him from the field into the shadow cast by the washroom.
He was baking in the sun, explains Brenden O’Rourke, who handles outreach and advocacy for Hope for Freedom Society.
“He’s really found this no man’s land,” O’Rourke says. He’s not talking about the park.
“There’s no services for somebody like him,” O’Rourke continues. “If some place deals with addiction then they can’t handle mental health . . . and if they do deal with mental health and addiction they don’t deal with ambulatory problems.”
“He wants to be in PoCo,” Amanda says. “It’s really shitty that the Tri-Cities doesn’t have anywhere for him to be.”
Given her own recovery, Amanda relates.
“I get it. I’ve been there. I hurt physically. I hurt emotionally. I was hurt spiritually,” she says, discussing her own recovery.
“I think as a community we should be able to rally around [him],” Amanda adds. “Somebody in this town’s got a whole whack of money and an accessible basement suite. I’d show up every day.”
“But to leave him alone in a park . . . I have a problem with that.”
“It’s inhumane,” O’Rourke says.
Wade Usborne, Fraser Health’s community mental health and substance use services liaison for the Tri-Cities, is on the scene.
He makes sure Haughain has water. He pulls the tarp to make him as comfortable and protected as possible. He asks what he can do. He assures Haughain he’ll be back to check on him later in the week.
A City of Port Coquitlam bylaw officer cleans up around him. When he’s distraught she comforts him.
Haughain says he needs help getting up. The bylaw officer calls the fire department.
“They’re pretty much the muscle,” Amanda explains.
Amanda and O’Rourke both offer gratitude to the service providers who showed up to help. But there’s a bigger, institutional problem around housing, Amanda notes. And there’s still no plan.
“We’re not in any better position than we were earlier this morning.”
‘Here I am’
A train rumbles by. Haughain says he’ll answer as many questions as he can.
He grew up in Port Coquitlam. He says his dyslexia kept him out of high school.
When he worked it was usually in construction or as a labourer. “Off and on, here and there.”
He describes getting up in the middle of the night for a drink of water a few years ago. He slipped on a hallway floor. He hit the floor at an odd angle and injured his neck. That’s where the nerve damage started, he says.
“They can treat the symptoms,” he explains. But there’s been no help for the underlying cause, he adds.
It’s one of the reasons he’s reluctant to go back to the hospital.
“You end up waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen. And nothing happens,” he says. “You end up getting discharged and you’re out in the street. . . . I got discharged in my pyjamas once, in cold weather too, in the middle of the night. So here I am.”
A siren bleeps on the next block and Port Coquitlam firefighters arrive.
“Hi Darrell. So, what can we do for you this afternoon?”
After some immediate needs are met, the conversation turns to the hospital.
“The hospital’s the best choice for now,” a firefighter tells him. “We can’t just leave you in a park, Darrell. It’s not safe.”
Lions Park at night
Haughain’s eyes are mostly half-closed during conversation. When asked what the park is like at night, his eyelids open all the way.
“Cold,” he says.
Any cash Haughain gets is taken from him, Amanda says.
“He usually doesn’t get to spend his money because he gets robbed every time.”
Discussing the dangers of the park, Haughain sounds resigned.
“Don’t matter. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.”
Port Coquitlam has been working with Haughain for more than a year, according to the city’s director of community safety Dominic Long.
The case, “highlights the gaps in our healthcare system,” Long wrote in a statement.
The city has helped to house him in the past, Long stated, adding similar services: “are often refused.”
The fire department has made seven calls to Haughain from May 29 to June 1, according to fire chief Robert Kripps.
Typically, those calls mean two firefighters conduct a wellness check and, if necessary, stay with him until the ambulance arrives.
Generally, non-medical calls are managed in less than 15 minutes, according to Kripps.
24 hours later
Despite his hesitancy, firefighters eventually persuaded Haughain to go to the hospital on Tuesday.
“PoCo Fire was amazing,” O’Rourke says. “All the services, everybody’s doing so much. . . . There’s just no endgame.”
After being discharged, Haughain was back at Lions Park on Wednesday.
There are places he can go but nowhere he can stay, O’Rourke explains.
“We’re kind of right where we left off.”
Editor’s note: At the request of Darrell Haughain, none of the photos show his face.