Due to lack of funding, the city’s only transitional housing center for homeless individuals suffering from severe mental illness will close at the end of this year.
The Safe Haven transitional center provides shelter and drop-in services. It’s a service of Porchlight an organization that provides services and housing for Dane County homeless.
“The program is done,” said Karla Thennes, executive director of Porchlight. “It’s going to be a big, sad deal.”
Safe Haven provides shelter for homeless individuals with “severe and persistent mental illness.” The program has been around since 1995, and a few years ago was able to build a new center at 4006 Nakoosa Tr.
The center will close on Dec. 31, 2017.
The vast majority of funding for the program has historically come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the past 22 years, Thennes said. HUD provided about $350,000 and another $50,000 came from local donations to Porchlight.
But this year’s HUD funding process created a new category known as coordinated entry, which was prioritized locally, Thennes said. Coordinated entry is "a system that assesses and prioritizes individuals experiencing homelessness in order to connect them with housing," she said.
Because there was no increase in total HUD funding, Porchlight knew funding the coordinated entry program meant Safe Haven wouldn't be funded, Thennes said, and there’s no chance of regaining that funding in future years.
The program provides 14 beds and about 40 people drop in every day to do laundry, eat a free meal, shower or take a nap, Thennes said. Individuals usually stay for three to five months, long enough to connect to resources like food stamps, housing and jobs. Staff was at the center 24-hours a day to provide case management and support.
There was also a drop-in volunteer psychiatric clinic on site, a partnership with UW-Madison’s MEDiC program.
Those services are what make it valuable, but also pricey, she said.
“It’s such an expensive program, because it’s 24-hour services, 365 days a year.”
The program serves the severely mentally ill, and those people likely won’t easily transition to Porchlight’s men’s shelter, the coming day resource center or even permanent housing, she said.
“Sometimes they get housed and they just last a few months. They just have very severe mental health issues, alcohol and drug issues,” she said. “I worry that putting them in a program that’s just serving homeless people in general is not going to be a good fit for them.”
Asked what will happen to clients of the shelter, Thennes had no answers.
“I don’t know. I’m very concerned,” she said. “They’ve been coming to Safe Haven for years and years and years.”
Thennes said plans for the facility are still unclear. Built just four years ago, it’s meant for a group environment, with a commercial kitchen and staff offices, so renting out rooms is not Porchlight’s first choice, she said.
“Obviously we don’t want it to sit empty, there are tons of needs in town,” she said.
She said she was grateful for years of community support for the program.
“There has been a lot of wonderful supporters over the years who have given funds just for this program, and it’s a program that has really served Madison people,” she said.