Sarah Jordison | CUPE Communications
That’s what prompted Aaron, a trained social worker, to join with a group of volunteers in April 2017 to set up and run an overdose prevention site in Moss Park, in Toronto’s downtown east side.
“The Liberal government wasn’t responding to the crisis, so we had to,” he says. “As a volunteer at the site, I can help in ways I can’t at work.”
Volunteers like Aaron were eventually named “Torontonians of the Year” for their work by CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning show. They earned that title by setting up tents and providing a safe place for drug users to get clean needles, warm clothing, snacks and naloxone (with someone trained to administer it if needed).
In the site’s first 100 days, the volunteers witnessed 2,611 injections and stopped or reversed 106 drug poisonings or overdoses.
The fall was an equally busy time at the site. But as winter approached, the government was still failing to adequately address the crisis. Aaron and the other volunteers began to worry about what would happen to the people they were serving once the temperature dropped.
In the absence of government help, CUPE Ontario provided a large heated trailer for the group to use. Members of CUPE 1000, the Power Workers, linked the trailer to the power grid and covered the electricity and heating costs.
“I have never been so proud to be a CUPE member as I was the day the trailer showed up,” Aaron says. “For this group of people, the winter can be deadly. All of a sudden we knew we could continue to help.”
But the crisis has still not been resolved, he says.
“If a group of volunteers can come together and save 100 lives in four months, just think what we could do if our governments stepped up,” says Aaron. “The opioid crisis isn’t just happening in Toronto’s downtown east side. It’s happening in communities all across this province and all across this country.”
As of the time of publication the Ontario Liberal government has yet to act and the volunteer-run overdose prevention site is still in full operation.