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Homeless man a ‘good person’ — but conflicted

Remembrance: Transient who was found dead battled alcohol and drug addiction

Posted: February 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Larry McElvany could put the intricate inner workings of a car engine together effortlessly. But he struggled to keep his life in order.

McElvany was a talented mechanic. By the age of 16, he had made enough money fixing cars to buy his own pickup truck. By his 20s, McElvany was earning a good living by fixing high-end sports cars.

Sometimes McElvany’s clients would pay him with a pack of beer; sometimes with grams of cocaine.

Eventually, drug use and alcohol addiction affected his work, severely impaired his health and made it difficult to find a steady job.

McElvany, 57, was found dead near the Canyon Country Jo Anne Darcy library last week. Like thousands of other homeless people in Los Angeles County, he battled substance-abuse problems.

Of about 48,000 people described as homeless in 2009, about 41 percent had been dependent on drug or alcohol use over the previous 12 months, according to a survey by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority.

‘A cheerful man’

McElvany was well-liked by many in the local homeless community and frequently went to the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter to sleep, said Annette Guzman, the shelter’s manager.

“Everybody knew Larry,” Guzman said. “It seems like such a sad way to pass away. He was really a cheerful man. I’m going to miss his smile.”

Larry first arrived at the winter shelter two years ago, according to previous Signal reports. At the time, he said he was trying to overcome his drug addiction.

“I enjoy the hell out of it (here),” he said of the shelter. “It’s better than sleeping out in the cold on the ground.”

Although the shelter has been over capacity this season, shelter officials don’t turn people away who need a place to sleep even if they are intoxicated, she said.

Family grieves
Larry McElvany grew up in Saugus. His dad worked for General Motors and taught him how to fix cars at a young age, his brother Marvin McElvany said.

“(Larry) was a man of few words, but when he said something, it was right to the core,” Marvin McElvany said.

Marvin McElvany, 58, said his parents paid for his brother to go to rehab multiple times but he was never able to stay sober.

While he and his family have been mourning Larry McElvany’s death, Marvin McElvany said he wasn’t surprised to hear that his brother had died.

“First, you’re shocked and in disbelief,” Marvin McElvany said. “I feel like I can call him and say, ‘One more chance.’”
His sister Jan McElvany took care of Larry at her house near Redondo Beach for more than a year.

Her brother suffered from alcohol dementia, she said, but sounded well the last time they spoke. He borrowed a woman’s cell phone to call her about a week before he died.

“He ... said ‘happy birthday, new year and Christmas,’” she said. Her voice broke, and she started to cry. “He told me he had gotten new clothes and was living behind a library. I told him he couldn’t do that and he said it was closed down and they were fixing it up ... He said he wasn’t drinking as much but I never knew what that meant. ... He would do anything for anybody ... (and) he could take a car apart and put it back together at 10 (years old).”

Marvin McElvany said in an e-mail that his brother was a good person who just got caught up in drugs and alcohol.

“He was loved by his family and people that knew him,” he wrote. “We tried to help him all we could. Could you let the world know he lived and he was important?”

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