BANGOR, Maine — On Union Street in Bangor, a mission is in motion to help people struggling with mental health and substance use issues. The Together Place Peer Run Recovery Center has been helping people since 1981—and with brightly colored murals covering its exterior walls, the building is hard to miss.
The Together Place offers people help for no cost. The organization receives some funding from the state, but it also relies on outside funding to support additional activities.
For this holiday season, executive director Sean Faircloth created a photo book with original pictures of the city of Bangor during the coronavirus pandemic. He is hoping Mainers will want to buy them—either as memorabilia, or as gifts for people who have moved away.
"Unfortunately, Bangor faces a big challenge," Faircloth told NEWS CENTER Maine, speaking about addiction. "These photo books are another way of letting the community know about us."
Faircloth says the work his organization is doing is perhaps more important than ever this year. The Maine Drug Death Report for 2019, conducted by the University of Maine and funded for by the Maine Office of the Attorney General, indicates there were 380 drug deaths ("when one or more drugs are identified on the death certificate as a cause of significant contributing factor for the death") in 2019. That's a seven percent increase over 2018, though it's still lower than the peak of 417 deaths in 2017. Experts say the pandemic will likely have far-reaching effects on addiction, too.
Faircloth says research indicates Bangor is one of the places in the state most impacted.
"The overdose death rate in this city is the highest in any city in the state," Faircloth expressed. "This where we're standing is the highest overdose neighborhood in the city of Bangor."
The Together Place hires Certified Intentional Peer Support Specialists (CIPSS), people with a connection to addiction and/or mental health battles who may be able to provide unique and helpful insight to people struggling.
Jacquie Wilks, the CIPSS program director, says she's been with the Together Place for two years now, since starting out with AmeriCorps. It's a journey she began because of a painful and personal history.
"I have a younger sister who in 2014 was 44 years old and died of a heroin overdose," Jacquie told NEWS CENTER Maine. "So, it's pretty near and dear to my heart."
One person Jacquie has worked closely with is Jessica Mayhew, a women from Carmel who says she came to the Together Place after deciding she wanted to quit drinking, noticing it was poorly impacting her demeanor and mental health. Now, she's gone seven months without alcohol—and she credits a lot of that success to this organization.
"They're here" Mayhew emphasized. "The staff are here to help you realize that you're not alone, and you're not struggling alone."
Mayhew says she has also seen the impact of the pandemic on addiction in Maine in her own life, losing a number of friends to the battle in the last eight months.
"[They] couldn’t fight their demons anymore," Mayhew said.
Faircloth says his team allows people to simply walk-in (following COVID-19 guidelines) or get help via the phone or Zoom. The Together Place doesn't prescribe medication, but it is entirely free to people in need of help.
If you're interested in buying one of these photo books or learning more about the project, you can click here.