By: Tony Davis
There is a new place between Holland College and Hunter’s Ale House off a side street connecting to Kent Street. It is a walk college students typically take to grab a meal. Sometimes on the short stroll you can look to the edge of the side walk and see needles.
The issues of addiction on P.E.I. are not as well hidden as they used to be, and drug use has touched many Island families. That’s why this new place exists. It’s called SAFE (Sober and Friendly Environment) and has taken over the corner of Kent and Hillsborough Streets where the Maritime Christian Bookstore used to exist.
Sister Laura Kelly has witnessed the effects drugs and alcohol have had over the years in the island community. She is taking a year off from her job at Health P.E.I. as an addictions counsellor to give those recovering from addiction and trying to stay clean a place to focus their energy.
“We hope to be able to let people express themselves in whatever way with the crafts and art, stuff like that. Mostly we want social time, people to sit around and have fun,” she said.
Inside SAFE the walls are a calming pale blue, there is a pool table, an air hockey table, lounge areas where people can watch TV, play video games or just socialize.
Kelly walks around the space into different rooms, pondering what wall will display a movie projection the best.
“Right now it is a drop in centre. We want people to come be leisurely, connect with each other, use things they see here to motivate the changes in their lives, whether they are completely clean or not, or hopefully working towards that,” Kelly said. Kelly’s congregation has helped set up this project, they have been supportive.
“I think the Marthas, that is a congregation I belong to. They are paying the full shot, they are making it happen,” she said.
Kelly doesn’t just have professional experience; she has personally struggled with addition, primarily alcohol.
Sister Laura Kelly sits at SAFE (Sober and Friendly Environment) located at the corner of Kent and Hillsborough streets. It is a drop in centre for those trying to stay sober to socialize. (Tony Davis)
“I’m in recovery myself, I know a person can be very sick and get better like I was. At the same time I know how easy it is to slip into that negative thinking, that mindset that says it’s okay again. Even after 26 years of sobriety I still sniff my drinks before I drink them, just to play it safe.”
Working in addiction, she has witnessed the suffering others battling addiction have gone through, most notably younger people.
“I’ve been working in the field for a number of years and I see more young people dying then ever before and that is what bothers me.”
She doesn’t like people suffering, and P.E.I. has some great programs, but for some reason people don’t make it to the programs, Kelly said.
“(If) they are still using something and trying to get to it, we will let them in here to enjoy it as long as they don’t appear using.”
Kelly knows she has an up hill battle, especially being in the location SAFE is at, she said.
“You go around the street, up here is the bars and right across the street from us we see deals happen. That is why we are going to have security to make sure it is safe for people as well.”
Aggressive or rude behavior will not be tolerated at SAFE and the possession of drugs and alcohol are not permitted. If anyone is caught drug dealing they will be asked to leave and the police will be called.
Kelly is trying to help primarily the 20 and 30’s age group, she said.
“That does not mean we will not assist others, but that is our primary care. That’s where I see too many lives being lost, some of the older people aren’t as risk taking as the younger population.”
Kelly wants to be open to help people with any addiction, drinking, drug use, or gambling so they can come and socialize in order to better themselves.
“We will not be counseling here, but that’s not what we are doing. We will send them to the right places. They key thing is to just have some fun with other people trying to stay straight. Let us get the music roaring, let’s play some cards, maybe we will have an Art After Dark event.”
Kelly hopes SAFE becomes well utilized over the next year and then eventually reaches non-profit status. By the end of the month Kelly wants SAFE to be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the plan to open seven days a week eventually.
Want to volunteer?
Sister Laura Kelly is hoping for more volunteers.
To ask about volunteering, or to learn more about SAFE – Sober And Friendly Environment, email Sr. Laura Kelly at email@example.com or call her at 902-218-6171.