Safe Havens use a "Housing First" supportive housing model to provide an alternative to shelter placement. The program is designed to serve hard-to-reach individuals who are chronically unhoused and often have disabling mental health and substance use conditions.

Many Safe Haven clients choose to engage (or re-engage) in behavioral health treatment, but this is not a requirement to receive Safe Haven housing. A successful transition to permanent housing - often with ongoing support services or directly into permanent supportive housing - is the most important goal and expected outcome for all clients.

Watch (left): This brief summary, recorded from a live briefing held in connection with FY23 budget advocacy, explains the value and importance of Safe Havens in Massachusetts.

Quote reads: “The Safe Haven has been a lifesaver for me.. I had never been welcomed like that before, not anywhere. The staff are tremendous, I love them. Being with Safe Haven and working with the staff has calmed me down so I'm not feeling like I have to be out on the street homeless. Instead, it feels like home. It feels like family.”  -Tammy Isaacs, Safe Haven resident

Read more about Tammy's story here.

Safe Haven programs provide private rooms, bedding, meals, and hygiene products. Other services provided include:

  • help in securing benefits;
  • assistance completing housing applications and creating a housing plan;
  • self help groups, medication management, and linkages to appropriate mental health and substance use programs;
  • social supports and community re-entry skills; and
  • crisis intervention services (as needed).

The average length of stay for individuals in Safe Havens is two years or less.

Safehaven room

Who do Safe Haven programs serve?

Safe Havens serve a population that is chronically homeless, often with significant behavioral health conditions. They're among the highest users of emergency departments, hospital beds and emergency medical services, and have high rates of involvement with police and the justice system. Many have not been well served by the shelter system, due to past histories of trauma and safety concerns.

Safe Havens provide a location to transition these individuals from the streets, continue engagement, and facilitate access to services - all in a safe, non-threatening environment.

What is the need?

There are currently 14 Safe Haven programs across the Commonwealth, with capacity to serve 113 people. Unfortunately, need is outpacing the growth of Safe Havens.

In 2022, there were 1,504 chronically homeless individuals without children living in shelters or transitional housing in Massachusetts (HUD 2022 Continuum of Care Report). The coronavirus pandemic has since exacerbated the needs of many vulnerable populations. Expanding Safe Haven programs is vital to serve chronically homeless individuals and offer them a pathway to supportive housing and treatment. While the Department of Mental Health (DMH) is committed to expanding these programs statewide, more funding is needed to achieve regional equity and meet need.

A photo of a smiling woman with a brightly color blouse and shoulder length copper-red hair, she looks directly into the camera. The text reads: Tammy Isaacs was homeless and sleeping outside for three years before she was referred to the Safe Haven in Westfield. The staff are helping her find the right apartment and support so that she can be successful in the community.

Is it effective?

A 2020 study commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation found that those enrolled in permanent supportive housing programs in the Commonwealth have significantly lower total per-person per-year MassHealth costs compared to a similar group of chronically homeless individuals. The study also suggests that the preventive effect of permanent supportive housing may lead to a reduction in overall health care utilization and costs.

Safe Havens square

Take Action!

It's imperative to expand the availability and capacity of Safe Haven programs to provide more options for chronically homeless people.

A 7-bed Safe Haven program has a cost of $500,000 annually. Please join us in urging the Legislature to increase funding in the FY24 state budget for the Safe Haven program by $3 million to improve outcomes for people with mental health conditions who are chronically homeless.

Use the following materials to help spread the word and advocate for more Safe Haven funding: