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1999 Best Practices
Success Stories

Program Name: Nova Safe Havens
Program Focus: Homelessness
Geographic Area: Northwest
State: Arizona
City: Phoenix

Executive Summary
The Nova Safe Havens program integrates practices to serve the homeless and mentally ill, a historically difficult to reach population.

Safe Haven is a two-story building in downtown Phoenix surrounded by high rises and a nearby residential area. The facility has 25 beds and another 25 slots for day service. In 1999, Safe Haven served 431 people. The facility’s small size encourages the homeless to feel that they can trust the staff and allows the staff members to maintain close contact with their clientele. It is small enough to feel more like a safe haven than an institution.

The facility is run by the Northwest Organization for Voluntary Alternatives (NOVA), a nonprofit that operates two other programs in addition to Safe Haven. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides funding, and staff members from the local HUD office were the ones who originally asked a regional behavioral health agency to establish a service for the mentally ill homeless population. The regional agency in turn tapped NOVA to operate the facility, which opened its doors in 1995. Safe Haven is the only operation of its kind in Arizona.

Phoenix has a large homeless population. Estimated at 20,000, the homeless are attracted to the city because they can sleep in the streets in winter.

At Safe Haven, the staff members identify the services needed by the homeless. The staff has integrated a variety of practices that work successfully around the country. Their clients receive training in hygiene, help with substance abuse, assistance with finding jobs, and help with locating permanent housing. Staff members are able to establish a low-demand environment that enables them to maintain relationships with the seriously mentally ill clientele.

Just getting people off the street and helping them learn to take care of themselves is an achievement when people have lived outdoors for years.

Safe Haven’s staff works with the community to help the public understand the facility and its operations. "The staff calls on the police department on occasion, and the police also call us," says Lopez. "And we go to neighborhood meetings."

Because the city has limited available housing, Safe Haven has a waiting list of homeless individuals who are looking for apartments. The Safe Haven staff has to be creative and persistent in finding permanent housing for their clientele.

The mentally ill homeless are a hard-to-serve community. "This is a difficult population to work with," says Lopez. "They’re both homeless and mentally ill—a double whammy. In fact, many use drugs to self-medicate, so it’s really a triple whammy."

Staff members frequently go beyond the call of duty in doing extra things for their clientele, such as working with other mental health programs to find help. Lopez explains the staff’s dedication by concluding, "Working here is a calling."

HUD, Value Options (formerly Comcare) and the Arizona Behavioral Health Corporation.

Financing: Various funding sources.

Point of Contact: Sherri Lopez, Phone: (602) 528-0758

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Content Archived: April 20, 2011

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