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Homeless man died in the cold in Biloxi three days before getting an apartment

Bannon Canty is shown in an undated photo provided by Back Bay Mission.
Bannon Canty is shown in an undated photo provided by Back Bay Mission.(Back Bay Mission)
Updated: Jan. 18, 2021 at 6:50 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Bannon Canty died in the cold rain behind a store on Caillavet Street in Biloxi.

The 48-year-old homeless man was three days away from getting an apartment through Back Bay Mission’s Home At Last program.

“I talked to him Friday before I left work, and he was so excited” about moving into his apartment, said Sarah Boone, director of the Home At Last program for Back Bay Mission.

“I miss Bannon...a lot,” she said with a quiver in her voice.

“Bannon was quirky and funny. He didn’t take any mouth from anybody,” Boone said, remembering his thick Cajun accent. “The homeless community was very familiar with him and everybody at Back Bay loved when Bannon would come to town.

“He had a lot of tragedy in his life,” Boone said during an interview last week. “A rough start from the beginning. He was in and out of jail. He struggles with the same things that so many other people struggle with, he just did it on the streets.”

Canty had begun to turn his life around. He spent several months getting sober at a facility in New Orleans and had returned to Biloxi because the Louisiana native preferred to live on the Mississippi Coast.

Boone’s memories of Canty brought a smile to her face.

“To know that he was three days from being housed and dying in the cold alone,” said Boone, who has known Canty for four years. “He had people who love him and will miss him.”

There was another tragic aspect of Canty’s death.

About a mile from where he died, there was a cold-weather shelter open at Loaves and Fishes, but he didn’t know about it. Harrison County usually has a shelter in D’Iberville, but that building has been converted into a COVID-19 testing site. Word about the Loaves and Fishes shelter didn’t reach Back Bay Mission until Monday.

“The only weather shelter that we were made aware of was the one in Gulfport at Salvation Army,” Boone said.

There was some light rain in Biloxi Sunday night, Jan. 10. Temperatures dropped to just below 40 degrees.

“And I remember him asking me (Friday) if he could just sleep in the apartment with no furniture, and I said we’re not allowed to do that, the electric isn’t on until Monday,” Boone said. “It’s against the rules. I can’t let you sleep in the apartment with no electricity.

“And then to find out he passed away in the cold. It’s a tragedy,” she said. “I think it’s a stain on our community that we have people dying outside and we’re worried about covering up our plants and making sure our faucets are running when there are literally people living on roofs of buildings in west Biloxi because there’s nowhere for them to go.”

The Home At Last program finds permanent housing for the chronically homeless. They can house up to 22 people in 17 apartments. Boone said she wants to see a more concerted effort made to help the homeless in the community. The program is funded through the federal Housing and Urban Development department. It is one of several programs available to the homeless in South Mississippi that aims to get them off the street and into permanent housing.

The apartment that Bannon Canty was going to move in to will be made available to another homeless person who qualifies for the Home at Last program.

“I think the most important thing I want people to know is that these are human beings,” Boone said. “They deserve for you to look at them out the window when you drive by.

“Housing is not a privilege, it’s a right. We say that all the time. Everybody should have a right to housing if they want to be housed.

“I think all the agencies work really hard, and we do what we can, but there’s a population of aging and sick people and they’re dying on the streets. Bannon was already sick. He was very, very thin.”

Boone said Canty’s brother told her his death was likely a combination of his poor health and the weather, according to the coroner’s office.

“It breaks my heart because he’s not the only one that’s passed this year,” she said. “I had several pass away last year, and you don’t hear about them, and many times there’s nobody to claim bodies, so they’re in unmarked graves, and that’s sad. It’s just sad to me.”

Canty’s brother in Louisiana told Boone that the family would have him cremated and buried with other family members.

“They’re not just some dirty bystander that’s making our city look bad,” Boone said. “I think letting them die on the streets in the cold makes our city look bad.”

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