A day in the life of U-Turn: 'Each day here is something different'

The U-Turn Addictions Drop-In Centre in Carbonear provides support to addicts both before and after they receive professional help, writes Heather Barrett.

Community addiction recovery centre was founded at a kitchen table

Jeff Bourne, Executive Director of the U-Turn Addictions Drop-In Centre, and Tammy Bourne, the centre's volunteer co-ordinator, outside the centre's main entrance in Carbonear at the beginning of a long day. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

When people in Conception Bay and Trinity Bay need help battling addictions, they come to U-Turn Addictions Drop-In Centre in Carbonear.

The centre provides support to addicts both before and after they receive professional help. U-Turn offers peer counselling, referral services, and community support. 

"We honestly don't know what we're going to be into before the day is out on any day," said Tammy Bourne, U-Turn's volunteer coordinator and bookkeeper.

Jeff Bourne, Tammy's husband and a recovering addict, formed the organization about a decade ago at the couple's kitchen table. He found that as he worked to stop using drugs and alcohol, other people struggling with addictions started asking him about how he managed to stay clean.

Today, Jeff is U-Turn's executive director and its only paid employee. He and his wife, Tammy, work full time at U-Turn.

For them, full-time means around the clock.

11:30 am. Jeff shovels snow from the front of U-Turn's front entrance, a discreet door at the back of a strip mall. Jeff has already spent a couple of hours at home, answering email and doing administrative work. That's because once his car is parked outside the centre, people start dropping by.

Clients at U-Turn have constructive conversations in casual moments, such as cigarette breaks. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

11:45 am. Bob (not his real name), a young bearded man with hipster tattoos, stops by to say hello before he starts his new retail job at 12. Bob has been in and out of drug and alcohol treatment, and despite several slips, hopes that support from U-Turn will help him stay clean.  Bob promises to be at a meeting at the centre that evening, then heads onwards to work.

Jeff keeps a tally of visits like these. U-Turn`s office is small, but it received about 4,100 individual visits like this one in 2015.

12:00 pm. Both Jeff and Tammy`s cell phones ring and ping constantly with calls and texts. They are busy following up with clients, health professionals, and other community support organizations. They also make sure the office has a good stock of emergency supplies, such as small toiletry items and snacks. U-Turn's clients often need quick help with hunger and hygiene.

12:30 pm. Tammy heads out to meet with Renee (not her real name), a U-Turn client, at a low-key local diner. Much of U-Turn`s work is done over cups of coffee, bowls of soup, and slices of pie. The Bournes find that many people they work with open up more when they get together in this sort of setting.

Tammy Bourne, of U-Turn, chats with a client over coffee and pie at a local restaurant. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

1:00 pm. Renee and Tammy talk triggers in Renee`s recovery from her addiction to cocaine and opiates. Renee says she needs to stay away from cleaning supplies with the word "Oxy" in the title. It's a heavy conversation, but to anyone else in the restaurant, they are just two women having a quiet and friendly chat.

2:00 pm. Andrea (not her real name), the mother of a teenage boy, drops in to U-Turn for a visit. Her son was released from 5 months of treatment for drug addiction just before Christmas, and she wants to tell the Bournes that her son has marked six months of sobriety. Although Andrea does not personally struggle with addictions, she attends the Narcotics Anonymous Family support meetings at U-Turn, which she says are a tremendously helpful.

3:00 pm. Jeff Bourne gives me a tour of notable addiction related areas in Carbonear, including the drugstore which provides methadone dosages, areas where empty needles and syringes have been found, and other community support organizations, such as a local food bank.

As we pass the Carbonear hospital, Jeff says,  "Sometimes we go to hospital with people and sit with them in emerg, and wait with them to see the doctor and what process they can go to from there." 

Jeff adds both he and his wife have pulled all-nighters at the hospital with U-Turn clients.

Jeff Bourne of U-Turn, seen here at the new Adult Addictions Treatment Centre in Harbour Grace, says once this centre opens, U-Turn will provide community support to patients here. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

4:15 pm. Jeff pays a quick visit to staff at the brand new Adult Addictions Treatment Centre in nearby Harbour Grace. The 18-bed facility, similar to Humberwood Treatment Centre in Corner Brook, is slated to open later this winter. U-Turn will be part of the community support system for the centre's staff and patients.

5:00 pm. The Bournes follow up on phone calls, texts and do a couple of confidential face to face visits. They're also shuttling their two teenaged children around to various activities. Between the U-Turn work and family commitments, no one gets home to supper. They grab snacks on the run.

7:45 pm. People start to gather at U-Turn for that evening's Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The centre hosts 12-step recovery meetings, both for addicts and for their families, several nights each week. It's a group of completely ordinary looking people,who greet each other like old friends. Bob, from earlier in the day, is here. One older man puts on a pot of coffee. A woman shares some candies left over from her Christmas supplies. Many alcoholics have a sweet tooth acquired from years of drinking.

9:45 pm. The meeting breaks up, and members linger to chat inside U-Turn, or go outside for a smoke. Jeff and Tammy get ready to close the building up.  They`re looking forward to a quiet hour or two at home before bed.

11:30 pm. A quiet evening at home was not to be. Tammy gets an urgent call on her cell from a stressed out U-Turn client, and she's up late trying to give comfort.

It`s well after midnight before the Bournes get to bed. They'll get up early tomorrow morning, put their teenagers on the school bus, and start another U-Turn day all over again.

But the Bournes don't mind. They don't see their work as a job. For them, it's a calling.

"Every now and then, we'll get a quick text after 12 o'clock at night, 'thank you for the chat today, it meant so much,' said Jeff Bourne, "Or, 'mom and dad asked who the two of you are. They never saw anyone so caring to come alongside me.'"

"When we hear little things like that, that's what fuels us to keep going:"


Heather Barrett is the host and producer of Weekend AM on CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador.