MADISON, WI., September 1, 2017 – NAMI Dane County is deeply disappointed that Porchlight will close its Safe Haven transitional housing program for homeless persons with severe mental illness at the end of the year due to a lack of funding.
This lack of funding is a direct result of the federal government prioritizing rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing programs rather than keeping transitional programs open. This shift in funding priorities is also compounded by the fact that the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium decided in this year’s allocation process to shift dollars to a coordinated entry system. As a result, Safe Haven will lose $350,000 of its $400,000 budget and cannot remain open past the end of the year.
This is unfortunate news as Safe Haven is an important and necessary element in the system of care for homeless persons with severe mental illness. While we recognize that permanent housing is the key to ending homelessness, these individuals are the hardest to reach homeless population and are not easily engaged in mental health services or ready for immediate placement in residential settings, like group homes or permanent supportive housing.
Further, traditional emergency shelter programs serving the general homeless population are not well-suited to meet the needs of homeless persons with severe mental illness. Because of the nature and severity of these individuals’ illness, it is not uncommon for them to be denied or removed from these housing programs.
Safe Haven does provide the type of environment needed to re-establish trust and to eventually re-engage homeless persons with severe mental illness in needed treatment and services so that they can secure and maintain stable housing.
Many of the consumers that Safe Haven serves are underinsured (i.e. Medicare or Medicaid not connected to an HMO). As Safe Haven works to connect their residents to other services, they are struggling to find providers that are able to accept straight medical assistance because the fee-for-service rates are too low to cover the cost of providing services.
Given the above, some of our most vulnerable citizens will have nowhere to go when Safe Haven closes, which almost certainly will result in hospitalization or spending time in jail. These are inappropriate and costly alternatives to more cost-effective programs like Safe Haven, which provides temporary housing to 50 people per year and additional day-time services to 40 drop-in visitors per day. In fact, a community can pay for an entire year of intensive treatment, disability benefits and other services for the cost of one incarceration or hospital stay for a person with mental illness.
It is imperative, then, that the county, city, and community understand how the success of programs like Safe Haven is directly related to keeping people out of more costly settings such as inpatient care and jail.
Though we are encouraged by the news regarding A1 Furniture’s financial contributions to help Safe Haven stay open, Dane County will be challenged to conceptualize an alternative, sustainable funding model in order for them to continue operating.
While we do not know the answer for Safe Haven, we can offer a potential solution that requires further exploration. One is to leverage other resources and funding networks that increase the sustainability of programs like Safe Haven and improve access to care.
For example, Safe Haven could partner with managed care organizations to provide services. We know, though, that few managed care organizations have had experience with homeless persons with severe mental illnesses. Thus, they may not understand the value or scope of services that programs like Safe Haven provide. The incentive for embracing this model, then, needs to come from the county, city and community as investment from the public mental health funding network will provide concrete evidence of buy-in.
Though providing the necessary aid for homeless persons with severe mental illness is not always an easy task, it’s one that we cannot abandon. We encourage public officials and the community to explore all options that may help Safe Haven continue serving some of our most vulnerable citizens.
About NAMI Dane County
NAMI Dane County is the founding chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization that provides education, support, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness.
 Jeffrey Swanson and Marvin Swartz, Duke University; Fletcher-Allen Health Care/University of Vermont