The steering committee is the heart and soul of the SPW project.

The SPW steering committee includes six people with recent experience working from their lived/living expertise; a research coordinator; a representative from Working for Change; and a representative from George Brown College.

Each one of us identifies as a survivor and/or person with lived/living experience of contact with the oppressive social service system. More importantly, each of us is committed to treating each other with dignity, respect and love.

According to our Terms of Reference, the purpose of our steering committee was to:

  • Shape the SPW project through its three year duration
  • Ensure that the project promotes equity and justice for so-called “peer workers”

All major decisions in the SPW project were made by consensus. We also prioritized our connection to each other above all else.

In SPW, we believe that change is relational - we can’t seek justice in the world unless we can live it with one another. The community we built on the steering committee is a permanent outcome of the project. Our relationships with one another try to model the world we want to make.

Steering Committee Bios

griffin epstein (they/them) is a Mad/psychiatrized white settler/colonizer working as an educator and community-engaged researcher. They teach future social service workers about radical mental health and harm reduction at George Brown College and aspire to be in solidarity with movements for disability justice. They are a former frontline worker and hold a PhD in Sociology and Equity Studies from the University of Toronto.

Suwaida Farah (she/her) is a community support worker and outreach facilitator connecting people to events and services in the city of Toronto. Suwaida has also worked as a peer support worker. Most of her expertise comes from her lived experience. Having lived in various youth and adult shelters throughout her life, and through her battles with addiction, Suwaida has been able to gain tremendous insight on how and why individuals find themselves in a system that isn’t designed to support their most basic needs. Mental health and addictions are the main areas of focus for her advocacy and matters that she cares deeply about.

Madelyn Gold (she/her or they/them) is a lived experience advisor with over 8 years' experience working front line in a low barrier community drop-in for women and a devoted advocate for harm reduction, the rights of sex workers, and access to housing, dignity, and respect for homeless people. Madelyn has been a member in over 20 advisory panels and special projects and has been a leader and published with the This is Not Home Project, the Our Care Priorities Panel, the Shelter Pipeline Project, and Supporting Peer Work. Her activism successes include working with the Reach Out Response Network to implement non-police mental health crisis services, a program which the City of Toronto is now rolling out and deputing at City Hall on behalf of the Fair Fare Pass Coalition to lower transit fares for people on assistance, which was approved. Madelyn also assists seniors in her community, volunteers for the Freecycle website as a moderator, supports a volunteer tax clinic for Revenue Canada, works with the Fill a Purse for a Sister campaign, and organizes with the Bad Date Book Coalition.

Dawnmarie Harriott is a Program Manager of leadership programs at Working for Change an umbrella for several social purpose enterprises. As a consultant, she draws on expertise from her professional role as well as her lived experience to advise on the development of clinical programs and health education curricula that address the health needs of communities that have been socially marginalized. She speaks publicly about her experiences of systemic barriers, the significance of community engagement and the importance of including people with lived experience of marginalization in discussions to create systematic change.

Marc-Andre Hermanstyne (he/him) has been working in the social work field for over a decade, starting out with the Black Coalition for AIDS where he learned about the importance of being an ally to vulnerable communities. Over his career he has worked for a number of diverse communities, including Ve'ahavta Jewish Response to Homelessness and South Riverdale, where he created an outreach strategy running along the Danforth into the neighbourhoods of Taylor Massey and Oakridge. Marc-Andre is a staunch advocate for the rights and freedoms of youth, and people who use drugs and/or struggle with mental health concerns.

Lindsay Jennings (she/her) is a person who survived the correctional system. She is the current Co-Chair of the Transition from Custody Network, led by SOLGEN and CAMH, working to address gaps in discharge planning and to increase continuity of care for people moving in and out of the correctional system. Lindsay also Chairs' the Expert Advisory Committee for the Fresh Start Coalition, which is advocating for an automatic record suspension regime. Lindsay is a passionate and professional advocate for the Human and Health Care Rights of currently incarcerated individuals, and over the past years has been dedicated to addressing the preventable deaths in custody, and more ethical and supportive processes for the families of the loved ones who have died.

Maria Scotton (they/them) is a Harm Reduction Specialist with Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre (CONC) with 10 years of experience in social services. They advocate for peers in the social service sector and have developed and delivered Peer trainings for various organizations in Toronto.

Michael Nurse (he/him or they/them) lives and works in Toronto, delivering harm reduction-guided support to people who are experiencing challenges related to the use of psychoactive substances. Michael is an elder and a father of two adult sons and an adult daughter. He has worked for many organizations and advocacy initiatives, including the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (BlackCAP) and the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD).

Julia Walter (she/her) was a front-line worker at various Toronto community agencies for 20 years. She was simultaneously active in community building and organizing, focusing on disability justice, harm reduction, and anti-poverty movements and practices. She continues to work with people and communities who have been harmed by and involved in the psychiatric industrial complex and other carceral institutions. Her advocacy efforts and passion continue to lie in being part of imagination and mobilizing alternatives to dominant models of understanding communal and individual trauma and subsequent practices of care and support. She currently works as a therapist and community researcher.

Treaty Responsiblities

One of the ways we tried to live our commitments to equity and justice on the steering committee was to begin each of our meetings with time to learn about and reflect on the treaties that are the true laws of this land.

In our early days, we focused on the Dish with One Spoon, using books, articles, videos and podcasts by Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Elders, scholars, thinkers, and community-builders. We then learned about the Two Row Wampum from Haudenosaunee resources.

Beyond our specific treaty responsibilities, we also paid attention to guidance from Indigenous researchers from across so-called Canada to support us in refusing the most colonial methods of gathering knowledge and stories. We checked in with project consultant Les Harper at key points throughout our process to get on how to work in solidarity with Indigenous health promotion and harm reduction strategies.

Later in our process, we tried to connect our understanding of our treaty responsibilities, which will always be incomplete, to our everyday lives and commitments within and outside the project. We started to think together about what a world without the need for mainstream social work could be.


Below are some of the resources we used in our reflections. To learn more about our process, reach out to us on social media.

“If we want beloved community, we must stand for justice” - bell hooks, A revolution of values: The promise of multi-cultural change.