Nova Scotia

From the streets to national headlines, Danny MacKillop marks 1 year sober

A little over a year ago, Danny MacKillop was sleeping inside a parked car, addicted to street drugs and opioids and some 2,000 kilometres from his native Cape Breton, when a simple good deed propelled him into national headlines and changed the course of his life.

In 2017, a homeless MacKillop returned $40 left in an ATM to a police officer. The rest is history

Danny MacKillop grew up in Reserve Mines, Cape Breton. (Chris Steffler/Together We Can)

A little over a year ago, Danny MacKillop was sleeping in a parked car, addicted to street drugs and opioids and some 2,000 kilometres from his native Cape Breton, when a simple good deed propelled him into national headlines and changed the course of his life.

Now the 39-year-old is celebrating a major milestone: one year of sobriety, not to mention a roof over his head and a renewed closeness with family.

"It's definitely a dream come true," said MacKillop. "Family back in my life, and I'm no longer alone." 

For 10 years, MacKillop lived on the streets of Toronto, struggling with addictions to cocaine, crack, heroin and fentanyl and hustling to get by.

In November 2017, he found $40 in an ATM and returned it to the rightful owner, triggering a cascade of events that reconnected him with his family and led him to get the help he needed. 

Reaching a milestone

MacKillop now lives in Vancouver at the Together We Can treatment centre where he recently commemorated his one-year milestone with a cake and — admittedly — some jitters.  

"I knew that I would have to do a speech," he said. "So it was a little bit nerve-racking up to that point."

From left to right, Wayne Binder, Daniel MacEachern and Danny MacKillop. The three men grew up together in the Glace Bay, N.S., area. (Submitted by Together We Can)

In the end, MacKillop kept it simple.

"I just told my story," he said. "I just tried to share my experience, strength and hope and hopefully other people are willing to follow the same path."

It's a story MacKillop hasn't minded sharing since last February, and one that's benefited many. 

"Danny reaching the one-year mark of continuous sobriety has been one of those most magical things I've experienced in my entire life," said Daniel MacEachern, the centre's operations manager. 

From a dark place, Danny now shines like a bright light in the recovery community.- Daniel MacEachern , operations manager, Together We Can

MacEachern is also MacKillop's friend and sponsor. 

"Danny's story is the ultimate tale of redemption, rehabilitation and realized potential," said MacEachern.

"He's overcome all barriers to alter the trajectory of his life and thrive in ways many people thought impossible."

MacEachern said at least half a dozen other men from Nova Scotia have arrived at the treatment centre during the last year. MacKillop offers them "a sense of hope and home," he said.

"He reminds them of how home once was when times were better, and what it can be like if they do what is required," said MacEachern. 

"From a dark place, Danny now shines like a bright light in the recovery community."

'A beautiful thing'

MacKillop said being able to help anyone is great, but it's an added bonus when he gets to help those he already knows. 

"It's definitely special when you get friends from home," said MacKillop.

"You know, people that I grew up with, I get to walk with them and show them a little bit of how I do things and I get to watch what they do. It's a beautiful thing going on." 

Jason Kirkwood, the police officer who accidentally left his $40 behind in the ATM that fateful day, said news of MacKillop's one-year milestone is "fantastic."

"Unfortunately you don't see success stories every day," said Kirkwood, a special constable with Toronto Community Housing. "But Danny's surely been one, and I think he's leading by example."

Kirkwood's worked in downtown Toronto for two decades, where he's seen "people who have been struggling for many, many years." 

Inspired by MacKillop

Because so many people have heard about Danny's story, they've approached Kirkwood for help. 

"Some people come up to me and ask if I can get in touch with their sister or their mom. They truly want to clean up, but they don't really know how," he said. "So I divert them to different organizations, or to Danny, if I can. He's always willing to help." 

Kirkwood said he's shown the video of MacKillop reuniting with his mother taken at the Sydney airport in August to people living with addiction. 

"Especially for people who know him," said Kirkwood. "They watch it and I've had some pretty hard people crying when I've shown it." 

He said for those who watch the video, "it says that there is hope and that with enough motivation, they can accomplish what they need to."

Dealing with the past

But hurdles remain for MacKillop. 

He is due in court in Toronto in March to face 49 charges of petty theft that date back to his time on the street. 

"It's going to be a step back into the past," said MacKillop. "I'm not too proud of the things I've done, but it is what it is. I'm going to do the right thing and deal with this." 

Kirkwood plans to go with MacKillop to court to speak on his behalf about his recovery and how he's helped so many people.  

"The majority of the stories are heartbreaking, but every once in a while you get one like this that is uplifting," said Kirkwood. 

Mary MacKillop, Danny MacKillop and Danny’s daughter, Danielle Lee. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

MacKillop's mother, Mary MacKillop, is thrilled her son has reached the one-year mark.

"As each month went by, I still had my little worries," she said. "But now that we're at a year and I talk to him and he's so positive and happy, that I don't dwell on the bad things anymore."

She'll head to Toronto in March to also be with her son in court.

And she's confident the judge will weigh the merits of his last year in his favour. 

"My philosophy is we had so many miracles and things happen last year that we're not going to get let down now" she said. "This is going to work out."

 

About the Author

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca

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