Sr. Laura Kelly is succeeding in her goal of providing a comfortable gathering spot for people with addictions to safely socialize in the evening.
Kelly took leave from her job as an addiction counsellor with Health P.E.I. to open SAFE (short for Sober and Friendly Environment) at the corner of Kent Street and Hillsborough Street in Charlottetown.
She believes word of mouth has been the strongest marketing tool for the spacious building that has comfortable furniture to relax and chat, musical instruments, a pool table, a ping pong table, free Wi-Fi, an art area, television and video games as well as hot coffee and tea.
Word has spread well.
Kelly has welcomed roughly 400 clients in the first five-and-a-half months since SAFE opened Nov. 22.
She is not surprised by the large interest this compassionate place has experienced.
However, she was not expecting the great variety of people that have made their way to the door.
She started the initiative, with both the blessing and hefty funding of Sisters of Saint Martha, primarily targeting people in their 20s and 30s.
A large chunk of the clients is indeed under 40, but many others are middle age or older that have mental health issues and may be homeless.
SAFE was open three days a week for the first couple months but now is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight.
The place, which has drawn as many as 49 people in one night, typically has 15 to 40 clients per evening.
Kelly says many clients visit SAFE after attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
She believes a need is being met by offering a place for people with addictions to socialize and make positive connections without the pull of drugs or alcohol.
“I’m trying to reduce the harm,’’ says Kelly.
“It has been very good, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be.’’
Kelly spends a good deal of time, perhaps more than she had intended, meeting with clients at the former home of the Maritime Christian Bookstore.
She plays crib, shoots pool and chats with the clients. She lets them lead the conversation if they wish to discuss heavy personal issues.
While Kelly has worked hard to create a home-like atmosphere, she has house rules that are strictly enforced.
Unruly behavior is not tolerated. The use or possession of drugs and/or alcohol is not permitted.
“This is not a pick-up joint,’’ she adds.
“It’s not a bar. It’s a place to drop in and socialize and have some fun – recovery fun.’’
Kelly says a recovery coach who visited from Moncton was extremely impressed with SAFE.
“He was amazed to see what was happening here and quite ecstatic,’’ she says.
“He would love to see something like this over there (in Moncton).’’
Kelly, a member of the Sisters of Saint Martha, has found the project to be extremely rewarding, calling it very life-giving.
“The clients are friends in my mind,’’ she says.
“They’re people we help. They help me just by being here to see that they are getting out of a position that they may not like.’’
The Sober and Friendly Place (SAFE) in Charlottetown is looking to recruit more volunteers. Three volunteers are on site during all hours of operation at SAFE, which is open five nights a week from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight. To inquire about volunteering call 902-218-6171 or email email@example.com.