Even after losing his construction job in March, long time activist Daniel Bailey’s primary concern was prioritizing the needs of others.
What began as a solo distribution of extra groceries and cigarettes has quickly grown into Ottawa Street Medics, a “mutual aid initiative” that provides hot homemade meals, donated items and wellness checks to those in need.
“At first it was just me, looking around my house, kind of gathering stuff that I could make into extra meals and bring to Dundonald Park, near where I live. And now it’s a full-time thing. I manage our social media and accept and manage all of the donations out of my apartment,” explains the 25 year-old, who isn’t a stranger to hard times, himself.
Bailey says he grew up in a dysfunctional family on a hobby farm in rural Ottawa, feeling extremely isolated in an “ultra conservative bubble." Lacking a safe place to call home, coupled with the unresolved trauma, abuse and pain of his childhood, eventually led him down a dark path, where he spent a significant amount of time battling his own demons.
“I lived in abject despair all of the time,” he explains. "[I was] drinking here to deal with the fact that I have to go back to work tomorrow, and doing drugs over here because I just can’t be alone with my own thoughts for 20 minutes, because if I am then I’ll realize how shitty my life is and that I’ll never get out of it.”
His saving grace came in the form of Kind Space, the oldest registered LGBT-specific charity in Canada.
After attending their programs for a few months, he quickly moved on to become a youth group facilitator, where a sense of empowerment began to percolate and he quickly learned how to form healthy relationships. Furthermore, Bailey discovered a passion for activism, and says that spending so much time with those living in transient situations has allowed him to approach the Ottawa Street Medics initiative from a completely different angle than traditional first responders.
“Myself and people close to me in my own personal life have been forcibly incarcerated by police who show up and escalate the situation because they don’t know what they’re doing, or who they’re speaking to. [Ottawa Street Medics] approach every situation as if these people are our own friends or family members," explains Bailey. "We've been in some really tense situations and never once have we needed police because most people just want to have a better day. Ultimately police do a lot of the work that I think just trained people could do. They need a non judgemental place where they can come and just be.”
Offering unconditional support is at the crux of what Bailey is offering, whether in the form of material items or emotional assistance. Bailey’s view is that a lack of support is at the core of our problems as a society.
“We’re all going to have mental health issues or have to break cycles of abuse," he says. "We’re all going to have crazy sh*t happen to us but it doesn’t have to destroy us -- and it does because we, as a society, allow it.”