It’s like moving from a dungeon to a palace. That’s how Laurie Keagan described going from the streets of Halifax and Calgary to Holly House, a second-stage residence for homeless women in Dartmouth.
Holly House, run by the non-profit Elizabeth Fry Society of Nova Scotia, has been open just a year, but has been a decade in the making.
Next month, the society will celebrate the success of Holly House with a fundraising gala to honour local activists for their support.
For Keagan, who has lived there 10 months, she too is achieving success — something she hadn’t felt in years.
It all began when she lost her job a few years ago. The call centre where she had been a supervisor for three years folded, and her husband of 10 years left her.
“Drugs and addiction took over my life,” the 51-year-old said. “I lost my son through (Nova Scotia) Children’s Aid. So I was all alone. I have no family.”
She moved to Calgary, living on the streets for a while before coming back to Halifax. She stayed in a local women’s shelter on Gottingen Street, and then ended up in a Dartmouth psychiatric hospital.
When she left the hospital, Holly House had been running for just a few months. She applied and now 10 months later, her voice breaks with emotion as she describes how her life has changed.
“I was always running and staying here and staying there,” she said.
Keagan now sees a doctor to help manage her depression and anxiety. Addiction and mental health counselling are available on site. She takes part in every workshop the society offers, such as anger management and healthy relationships.
She also gives back, typing thank you letters and assembling prizes for the bingo night the society organizes at the provincial women’s prison in Dartmouth. She’s in charge of requesting donations for the upcoming gala and manages them on a spreadsheet.
“Giving back what was given to me so freely means a lot to me,” Keagan said.
She says it’s scary to think where she’d be without the support she’s received at Holly House.
“Without them, I’d probably be still on the streets somewhere.”