International best-selling author, loss prevention officer, research consultant, supportive housing program coordinator, community organizer and journalist. Through these roles, Leigh Zachary Bursey has engaged with vulnerable people and worked to amplify their voices to produce social change.
Leigh has never shied away from tackling challenging social topics such as homelessness, mental health, harm reduction and allied support for the LGBTQIA – and for him, this work is personal. “My mother and I dealt with homelessness while I was in high school, giving me an early education in trauma and desperation,” notes Leigh. “As a result, I understood early on that I wanted to help people.”
It was while standing calf-deep in snow at a bus stop in Brockville, Ontario and realizing that this was a daily experience for many people that Leigh decided to run for city council. “I used my punk rock ethos, music background and big mouth to go out and make a difference,” says Leigh.
During his three terms as Brockville city councillor, Leigh participated in important discussions about social justice issues including gender equity, homelessness, mental health, harm reduction and affordable housing. “I was tagged as the punk rock councillor and was called by people in crisis to help. That experience provided powerful, hands-on experience in dealing with the circumstances and traumas of others,” he said.
Leigh’s passion for community development and helping those who are often marginalized and in need of support is reflected in his work. In addition to his role as a city councillor, Leigh has served as Vice-President of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, and as a Child Protection Support Worker for Family and Children Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, and for Cornerstone Landing Youth Services in Lanark County. He has worked in youth homeless shelters and adult warming centres, advocating for naloxone training and increased harm reduction supports, and has been a vocal supporter of increased public transit hours and of adding operating dollars to local library budgets.
A highlight of Leigh’s career was speaking at the International Journal on Homelessness Symposium in Chicago in 2023. “I presented case studies that told the stories of rough sleepers – putting a name and a face to homelessness. Some of the rough sleepers I’ve worked with are the most incredible people I’ve known. I have come to understand that my lived experience is trivial in comparison,” says Leigh.
Leigh has shared his research findings as a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Canadian Rural and Remote Housing and Homelessness Symposium, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention National Conference and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association National Congress.
The focus of Leigh’s work has been to represent marginalized people in order to communicate their challenges and share their ideas for change to develop scalable solutions that can be replicated across borders. He has challenged stigmas and amplified the voices of the people he works with through outreach and engagement. “When asked what I do, I often say that I love people who are sometimes hard to love,” says Leigh. “I encourage people to make better decisions.”
Leigh’s dedication to advocating for the most vulnerable in the community is exemplified by his philosophy in life: “Kindness is free and a very underutilized form of currency that we should all exhaust.” Profound Impact is honoured to share the story of Leigh’s work and its impact and to recognize his accomplishments as an Impactful Action Awards finalist in the Young Leader Category.
You can see more about Leigh’s career and impact in the visualization below.
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