Protesters gathered outside a provincial government building in downtown Charlottetown Saturday to say they're fed up with the Community Outreach Centre and how officials are dealing with it.
Opened in 2021, the centre aims to help people dealing with homelessness while opening the path to counselling, employment, and food and housing services for community members who need it.
The centre is located on Euston Street in Charlottetown's old curling club. It's also beside a seniors' home and in between two schools. Many at the protest said they have an issue with the location.
Callie MacDonald, who spoke at the protest, said she hoped the centre would help when it opened, but it's gotten worse.
Callie MacDonald says she doesn't feel safe even going to a coffee at a shop that's near the Community Outreach Centre. (Ken Linton/CBC)
MacDonald said the area is covered with needles and it feels like officials aren't doing anything to make things better.
"From the government, to the City of Charlottetown, to the police — they're just passing the buck, instead of helping people, moving this into a safe and secure area."
I'm afraid it's going to get violent eventually. - Callie MacDonald
She and others expressed concern that if nothing is done, things could escalate and become dangerous.
"People want to take their city back and that is what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid it's going to get violent eventually."
But despite her concerns, and negative experiences, she said the centre's clients still need services.
"I'm a strong believer — we need to help them," she said.
Charlottetown Coun. Mitchell Tweel speaks at a podium during Saturday's protest. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)
The protest began with Coun. Mitchell Tweel asking the crowd of more than 100 if they "were willing, ready and able to take back their community."
He's been vocal about his support of closing the centre and has questioned its distribution of clean needles to IV drug users — a program funded by Health Canada.
"This is just another attempt on our part to bring back the safety and security of our neighbourhoods that have been truly compromised," Tweel said.
Neighbours of the centre have previously complained of fights and threats, trespassing, vandalism, thefts, nudity, public indecency, public intoxication and open drug use.
"This is not the city that we grew up in, right?" Tweel said to applause.
A man at the protest wears a sandwich board with the message 'Our kids deserve better' written across the back. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)
Some protesters held signs with messages like: "No more needles in our playgrounds."
At one point, a speaker called on Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown, who was in attendance, to address the protesters. Brown declined.
'We can not leave our people on the streets'
Alan McGuigan, now 38-years sober, spoke at the protest and said it was the pressure put on him to get clean that got him to go into a recovery program.
"I was pushed. I had to straighten up or I was going to lose everything," he said in an interview.
Alan McGuigan, who's been sober for nearly four decades, says the outreach centre's operating model isn't working for its clients or the community. (Alex MacIsaac/CBC)
The way the outreach centre is being run isn't working, he said. "This is P.E.I., we can not leave our people on the streets taking needles. We cannot."
He said the province is not doing enough to address the problem and there needs to be more programs to help people struggling with addiction.
"You gotta give them options, and they got none now," he said. "It's terrible."
Premier Dennis King was not in attendance but spoke to CBC News Friday on the topic. He said the location of the centre may be in the wrong area but the services it provides are needed.