By: Tony Davis
There is a new place between Holland College and Hunterâ€™s Ale House off a sideÂ street connecting to Kent Street. It is a walk college students typically take to grab aÂ meal. Sometimes on the short stroll you can look to the edge of the side walk and seeÂ needles.
The issues of addiction on P.E.I. are not as well hidden as they used to be, and drugÂ use has touched many Island families. Thatâ€™s why this new place exists. Itâ€™s calledÂ SAFE (Sober and Friendly Environment) and has taken over the corner of Kent andÂ 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 anÂ addictions counsellor to give those recovering from addiction and trying to stay cleanÂ a place to focus their energy.
â€œWe hope to be able to let people express themselves in whatever way with theÂ crafts and art, stuff like that. Mostly we want social time, people to sit around andÂ have fun,â€ she said.
Inside SAFE the walls are a calming pale blue, there is a pool table, an air hockeyÂ 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 displayÂ a movie projection the best.
â€œRight now it is a drop in centre. We want people to come be leisurely, connect withÂ each other, use things they see here to motivate the changes in their lives, whetherÂ they are completely clean or not, or hopefully working towards that,â€ Kelly said.Â Kellyâ€™s congregation has helped set up this project, they have been supportive.
â€œI think the Marthas, that is a congregation I belong to. They are paying the full shot,Â they are making it happen,â€ she said.
Kelly doesnâ€™t just have professional experience; she has personally struggled withÂ addition, primarily alcohol.
Sister Laura Kelly sits at SAFE (Sober and Friendly Environment) located at theÂ corner of Kent and Hillsborough streets. It is a drop in centre for those trying to stayÂ sober to socialize. (Tony Davis)
â€œIâ€™m in recovery myself, I know a person can be very sick and get better like I was. AtÂ the same time I know how easy it is to slip into that negative thinking, that mindsetÂ that says itâ€™s okay again. Even after 26 years of sobriety I still sniff my drinks beforeÂ I drink them, just to play it safe.â€
Working in addiction, she has witnessed the suffering others battling addiction haveÂ gone through, most notably younger people.
â€œIâ€™ve been working in the field for a number of years and I see more young peopleÂ dying then ever before and that is what bothers me.â€
She doesnâ€™t like people suffering, and P.E.I. has some great programs, but for someÂ reason people donâ€™t make it to the programs, Kelly said.
â€œ(If) they are still using something and trying to get to it, we will let them in here toÂ enjoy it as long as they donâ€™t appear using.â€
Kelly knows she has an up hill battle, especially being in the location SAFE is at, sheÂ said.
â€œYou go around the street, up here is the bars and right across the street from us weÂ see deals happen. That is why we are going to have security to make sure it is safeÂ for people as well.â€
Aggressive or rude behavior will not be tolerated at SAFE and the possession ofÂ drugs and alcohol are not permitted. If anyone is caught drug dealing they will beÂ asked to leave and the police will be called.
Kelly is trying to help primarily the 20 and 30â€™s age group, she said.
â€œThat does not mean we will not assist others, but that is our primary care. Thatâ€™sÂ where I see too many lives being lost, some of the older people arenâ€™t as risk takingÂ as the younger population.â€
Kelly wants to be open to help people with any addiction, drinking, drug use, orÂ gambling so they can come and socialize in order to better themselves.
â€œWe will not be counseling here, but thatâ€™s not what we are doing. We will sendÂ them to the right places. They key thing is to just have some fun with other peopleÂ trying to stay straight. Let us get the music roaring, letâ€™s play some cards, maybe weÂ will have an Art After Dark event.â€
Kelly hopes SAFE becomes well utilized over the next year and then eventuallyÂ reaches non-profit status. By the end of the month Kelly wants SAFE to beÂ open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight, with the plan to openÂ 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 â€“ Sober And FriendlyÂ Environment, email Sr. Laura Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org orÂ call her at 902-218-6171.