Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jan 2004
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell
Bookmark:  (John Turvey)


One of the Downtown Eastside's old-school voices, who developed the city's 
first needle exchange in 1988, has regrettably retired because of a chronic 

Fifty-nine-year-old John Turvey, who founded the non-profit Downtown 
Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS), is battling a genetic disease 
that is attacking energy cells in his muscles.

The long-time activist and former government social worker was diagnosed 
with mitochondrial myopathy, a potentially fatal disease, about a year ago.

"I'd trip and fall, get low energy, but I didn't realize what was 
happening," Turvey said from his home Thursday, where he is resting after 
six weeks in hospital.

Turvey could only spend a few minutes with the Courier, saying his 
condition makes it difficult for him to speak for long periods of time. 
Doctors haven't told him what his prognosis is, but Turvey said he doesn't 
believe it's a disease that can be beaten. "If the progress slows, I'll be 

A former heroin addict, who was stricken with Hepatitis C, Turvey 
originally thought his illness might be connected to hepatitis, but noted 
treatment all but erased the virus.

Turvey's retirement, which occurred in November, ends a very public career 
of fighting for better services for marginalized youth and adults. 
Politicians, police, reporters and various leaders in the Downtown Eastside 
often found themselves on the expletive-laced end of a Turvey tirade.

"John is the first to say that he's got an abrasive side at times, and 
certainly in making his points, he's very strong," said Allan Roscoe, 
director of programs at DEYAS, and a long-time friend.

But Turvey's spirited approach has led to action, with DEYAS growing from a 
one-man show in the early 1980s to an agency with close to 80 workers, who 
run various services in the city, including one of North America's largest 
needle exchanges. Other services include drug and alcohol counselling, a 
youth life skills program, a health van, six youth detox beds, a youth 
outreach program and a youth drop-in centre.

Roscoe met Turvey in 1979, when both men worked as social workers out of an 
office on Water Street for the then-Ministry of Human Resources. There, the 
duo spent many hours on the streets, connecting with youth and helping them 
with addictions and becoming advocates for those youth attending court.

"Basically, being there for them every step of the way in their process to 
getting off the street," said Roscoe, who described the loss of Turvey as 
"deep and personal."

"Every other day, workers here are talking about how much they miss him. 
It's really a very different atmosphere in the agency without him."

Roscoe said Turvey founded DEYAS to create an agency that was more "part of 
the fabric of the community," where he could involve residents, businesses 
and politicians in making lives better for youth and adults.

Judy McGuire, who has taken over for Turvey as DEYAS' executive director, 
points to the establishment of the needle exchange as an example of how 
Turvey engaged the community.

"He's passionate, dedicated, open minded and a vehement defender of 
properly protecting youth who've become street involved," she said, noting 
DEYAS is planning a retirement party for Turvey in the coming months. "It's 
awful not having him here, it feels extraordinarily strange."

Mayor Larry Campbell, who has known Turvey for about 10 years, said 
although he didn't always agree with him-particularly on the issue of 
supervised injection sites before treatment centres-he called him a 
passionate advocate who "walked the walk."

"He has respect-even grudging-from those who vehemently disagree with his 
position, but there's never been any question of the honesty of his 
position," Campbell said. "He may not be at DEYAS, but I don't expect him 
to be silent."

Before hanging up with the Courier Thursday, Turvey said, "It's frustrating 
and difficult not to be going back when you see the shit going on down 
there. You wish you were there, providing a voice or much-needed perspective."
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