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 | By David Reistroffer

Experiencing Homelessness: South Carolina Stories

Kindness matters. It’s like a caress from God to those who experience it. For those who never do, life can feel like slogging alone through a crazy, chaotic storm.

Laughlin McCoy and Bryan Hewitt said they felt lost growing up. Each said he rarely encountered love or kindness in his family, and without it, life fell apart.

McCoy grew up in Missouri and received a full scholarship to Wofford College largely because of help from one of his English teachers. He graduated in the 1980s with a degree in English, but he had no support on the home front.

“I had no family to turn to. I was a victim of domestic violence,” he said. “They changed their number and told me they wanted no contact with me.”

McCoy said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of abuse at home.

“After graduation, I had a series of domestic breakdowns,” he said. “By the time I was 35, I had gone through 85 jobs. I couldn’t keep a job.”

He moved to San Diego but that did not help.

“I lost my job, had a nervous breakdown and was on the streets,” McCoy said.

Without kindness and love from family, Hewitt’s life also derailed.

“I was an abused child,” Hewitt said of his growing up in Ohio. “I’ve been on my own since I was 16.”

During that time, Hewitt said he went to tech school, raised four children and served his country in the military. He has skills.

“He can fix anything,” McCoy said.

But he could not fix the abuse from his childhood and that has taken its toll and left him staring at life alone.

“I have PTSD, ADHD, COPD and emphysema,” he said. In the military, Hewitt served in Panama, but that exposed him to another side of life. “I got into acid, LSD and mushrooms.” And he found himself on the streets in Spartanburg.

McCoy said he could not catch a break, and he also drifted back to Spartanburg.

“We’re both recovering addicts,” McCoy said.

The streets, incredibly, played a role in their recovery efforts.

“Being homeless got me off drugs,” Hewitt said.

McCoy explained: “If you do drugs on the street, you’re going to stay on the street.”

Neither one of them wants that, and they are working hard to change their lives.

“There is nothing nice about being homeless,” McCoy said.

Hewitt agreed.

“Being homeless will give you PTSD. One of my good friends got beaten and stabbed and died. I’ve seen homeless people get robbed. I got robbed,” he explained.

“One lady was out there on Christmas Day and froze to death. Her name was Mary,” McCoy added. “When you’re homeless, you thank God every day for everything you have. Sometimes all you have is the clothes on your back and your name.”

“Just to be able to use the restroom, you thank God,” Hewitt agreed.

It’s a brutal existence, and finding a friend can help ease some of that pain. Before they met, Hewitt said he was taking care of two alcoholics, and it was very stressful.

“They were drunk alI day long … I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I got away from that the day I met Laughlin,” Hewitt said. 

McCoy remembers that day.

“I asked him, ‘Do you play chess?’ He said yes. We’ve been friends ever since,” McCoy said.

Humbly, McCoy admitted, “I have only won one game since we started playing.”

His luck changed — not in chess but in life — the day he met Joe Duffessy.

Duffessy is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. He introduced McCoy to the Lord, welcomed him to Bible study and invited McCoy to go on an Emmaus retreat.

Emmaus is a movement that unites believers, strengthens their faith and bonds them in a brotherhood or sisterhood built on God. McCoy went on an Emmaus retreat a year ago and found the family support he never had through his new brothers.

“My Emmaus brothers have helped me in every way,” McCoy said. He’s off the streets now, and he’s so thankful.

He has since introduced his friend Hewitt to the Church and to Duffessy’s Bible study.

And Duffessy encouraged Hewitt to pray and to attend the next Emmaus retreat.

Hewitt said, “Joe’s the one” who brought an incredible kindness to two traumatized, addicted men.

“We’re just a couple of old road dogs,” McCoy said. “Neither one of us expected this.”

But these “road dogs” are learning new tricks: they are learning to trust, they are learning to pray. 

“We’re not worthless people,” McCoy said. “God has spared us, and we thank him every day.”

They still have a long way to go. Hewitt said his COPD restricts him from working as a mechanic, but he contributes any way he can.

“I do plasma. That’s how I make my living,” Hewitt said.

“He gets $30 per donation,” McCoy added.

And when they need help, they turn to their Emmaus friends for a boost.  

“They give me insights on things like going to see a doctor or to see a psychiatrist. They give me rides to and from doctors’ appointments,” Hewitt said of his new friends in faith.

One of those is Blas Miyares.

“Blas is my Emmaus brother. He would do anything for me,” McCoy said. “I can’t think straight, and he thinks for me. I’ve never had anybody stick up for me the way he has.”

It’s kindness that matters.

And that kindness has taken two men’s lives, shattered while young, and given them hope. 

Truly a caress from God when it was needed most.