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Posted Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

The Morris County Board of Freeholders has approved 2020 funding for nonprofit-run Safe Haven program for homeless persons with severe and persistent mental illness.

Morris Freeholders Step in to Save Program for Severely Mentally Ill Residents

The program, which is a 24-year partnership between nonprofit organizations Homeless Solutions and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, was at risk of closing in June when federal pass-through funds will terminate.

Morris Freeholders Step in to Save Program for Severely Mentally Ill Residents

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which financed the program, has a new policy that shifts away from funding shelters and transitional housing programs, in favor of providing vouchers that place homeless persons directly into apartments.

Morris County government has pledged nearly $94,000 for the shelter program to prevent closure of Safe Haven operation on July 1. The county funds would keep it open through the end of the year.

Safe Haven has received federal dollars from HUD since its inception.  After an initial federal funding cut forced the Morris County Safe Haven program to shrink from 20 beds to 10 beds, Homeless Solutions was preparing to shut the program midway through 2020.

Kathy DeFillippo

“Without Safe Haven, some of our most severely mentally ill homeless persons would be left without options and proper care, wandering and living on the streets of our county, which would not be acceptable’’ said Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, the county governing board’s liaison. “We will fund Safe Haven through the end of the year to keep these residents safe and to allow time to explore future options.’’

A “Safe Haven’’ is a form of supportive housing that serves hard-to-reach homeless persons with severe mental illness who are on the street and have been unable or unwilling to participate in supportive services.

In 1992, amendments to the federal Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act included a provision for the creation of Safe Havens under HUD financing. The federal initiative has been discontinued but grandfathered programs, like the one in Morris County, continue to operate across the country.

The Safe Haven program in Morris County was founded in 1996 to provide shelter and supportive services for individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses and who often suffer from a co-occurring addiction disorder.

With the rise of the opioid epidemic, some 75 percent of Safe Haven guests battle a history of alcohol and/or substance use issues while struggling with their mental health.

Guests may stay in the Safe Haven program for up to 18 months.

With the support of the staffs of Homeless Solutions and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, these individuals get clinical help plus mental health services, medication monitoring, referrals for addiction treatment, legal aid, registration for social services programs, and other supportive services until they obtain a stable source of income and housing.

Staff also assist with transportation and facilitate employment and housing searches.

“On behalf of the board and staff of Homeless Solutions, I’m grateful to the freeholders for recognizing that homeless persons with a severe and persistent mental illness are among our most fragile members of our community,” said Dan McGuire, CEO of Homeless Solutions.

“This grant ensures that Homeless Solutions and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris will be able to continue our 20-plus year partnership providing shelter, essential care, and a brighter future for our most vulnerable neighbors,” McGuire added.

The cost to Homeless Solutions to maintain a 10-bed Safe Haven is estimated at $187,660 annually. The county will provide $93,830 in its 2020 budget to absorb the cost of the program for the second half of the year.