Liberty Safe Haven to help combat homelessness



A new solution to combat chronic homelessness in New Haven is coming to town.

Next winter, Liberty Safe Haven will open on State Street and offer 33 brand new apartments to individuals struggling with homelessness and disability.

Plans for the permanent supportive housing residence have been in the works since the mid-1990s, when Liberty Community Services — a local nonprofit supportive housing and service organization — designed the project and began seeking funds.

Now that it has successfully secured federal and state dollars, in addition to various private donations, the multimillion–dollar project will finally become a reality by the winter of 2004.

Ninth Square’s historic F.D. Grave building will be renovated to house Liberty Safe Haven. Artists previously used the building for studio space, but they have been relocated to make way for the new residence.

Artist Steve DiGiovanni said many of his fellow workers moved their studios to the old Gilbert factory, in Erector Square. DiGiovanni said he chose to leave Ninth Square last October, and although he liked the place, he was generously relocated “without any difficulty.”

Liberty Safe Haven will operate somewhat differently from the other services already in place to help New Haven’s homeless population.

Blueprints for the residence incorporate innovative architectural techniques meant to make the residents feel comfortable and secure in the building.

Telescoping hallways, in addition to varying ceiling heights, glass, and light usage, will help balance a sense of privacy and community, said Karen Cavanaugh, director of development and communications for Liberty Community Services.

Cavanaugh said Liberty Safe Haven’s program design is highly individualized. She said this is because the residence is designed to serve a specific population of people who are chronically homeless.

Chronic homelessness is a phrase used to describe people who have experienced lengthy or repeated homelessness, often because they confront physical or psychological disabilities. The chronic homeless constitute 10 percent of the nation’s homeless population but use 80 percent of community resources, according to a December 2002 article in the Boston Globe.

Yolanda P. Sidoti, director of clinical services for Liberty Community Services, said her organization will use established community services in the city to identify prospective residents for Liberty Safe Haven. Sidoti said this means visiting places where homeless people congregate, such as soup kitchens or under bridges.

In order to help this target group of chronically homeless people obtain and maintain housing, Cavanaugh said Liberty Safe Haven will employ a client-directed low-demand philosophy. This means meeting each resident at his or her level, and allowing them to set their own goals over time.

Instead of wading through the traditional progression of emergency shelter to transitional housing to permanent housing, tenants of Safe Haven will be given a permanent place to live from the beginning.

“This is approaching it from an opposite end,” Cavanaugh said.

She said the traditional services that are in place have not worked for the chronically homeless, as demonstrated by the fact that they repeatedly land back on the street.

Rachel Heerema, executive director of Life Haven, a temporary shelter, said she thinks Liberty Safe Haven’s model of providing housing first and services second, is excellent.

She also said Liberty Safe Haven’s low-demand strategy has the potential to be quite successful.

As for her own agency, Heerema said Life Haven probably falls slightly on the high-demand side of the continuum of strategies for helping people out of homelessness.

“We have a certain level of expectations of the people who are in the shelter,” she said. This includes waking up at a certain time each morning and attending various workshops.

“Based on the feedback that we’ve gotten from clients and former clients, the requirements that we ask of residents are the same requirements that they later tell us have been very useful,” Heerema said.

Heerema said Life Haven and Liberty Safe Haven embrace “two different service philosophies meeting the needs of different types of people.”

“Whatever is successful in moving people from homelessness to housing where they can live for a long time is valuable and useful,” she said.

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