Moss Park volunteers are Metro Morning's 2017 Torontonians of the year
Volunteers say they've reversed over 120 overdoses at supervised injection site since opening in August
After months of frustration, watching friends and co-workers overdose on Toronto streets, a group of volunteers decided to take action.
In August 2017, a team made up of harm reduction workers, drug users, medical professionals and neighbours, pitched a tent in Moss Park, stocked it with medical supplies, clean syringes and naloxone kits, and opened an unsanctioned supervised injection site.
Since then, the volunteers say they have reversed more than 120 overdoses.
"We had been waiting for so long for somebody to doing something," said Sarah Ovens on Metro Morning Thursday. She is one of the site's founders and volunteers.
"We're just watching the carnage kind of happen around us and as soon as there was an opportunity to show up and do something a lot of people wanted to do that."
What started as a small team, quickly ballooned to over 150 volunteers, ensuring the site could keep operating, and helping drug-users.
Leon "Pops" Alward has used intravenous drugs for the past 15 years. He said he was stunned to learn about the site, and immediately wanted to help.
"I put my family through hell because of my drug use. This was my way to start to make penance to them, by helping other people … and making sure people like myself live on another day," Alward said.
He credits the supervised injection site with saving his son's life. The 19-year-old also uses intravenous drugs, but on his father's request started to use at the Moss Park site. While injecting what he thought was heroin, he overdosed, discovering later his supply was tainted with fentanyl.
"We need these sites. Without the sites I would be laying my son to rest," Alward said.
Nomination comes from Toronto doctor
The volunteers of the Moss Park site were nominated for Metro Morning's Torontonian of the Year by Howard Ovens, an emergency physician and Chief Medical Strategy Officer at Mount Sinai Hospital.
"The site is not legally sanctioned so they showed courage, collaboration and tremendous commitment to staff the tent eight hours a day, seven days a week in all kinds of weather," Ovens wrote in his submission to Metro Morning. His daughter is Sarah, one of the site's volunteers.
The team was told they won the title Thursday morning, live on-air. The news brought tears to Metro Morning's studio, as Dodd, Ovens and Alward reacted to the win. While all three said they were excited, the team agrees there is more work to be done.
"I think more of us need to do stuff," said Dodd. "We have the capability and the power to do that and that's what we've shown in a park."
"The volunteers in the park have shown we can do anything," said Sarah Ovens.