New Haven’s Ninth Square is an eclectic community of restaurants, art spaces and mom-and-pop stores. This spring, a new residence to help the homeless get back on their feet will join the mix.
Liberty Safe Haven — a project of Liberty Community Services — will open 33 private studio apartments on 201 State Street for homeless individuals with substance addiction problems, physical disabilities, or chronic illnesses, including HIV/AIDS. The residence will offer a full-time clinical staff and 24-hour on-site support services, including vocational training, peer counseling, life skills and substance addiction programs. Fifty percent of the beds will serve people who are HIV-positive.
“This program is designed for the 10 percent of [the] homeless population who … because of the nature of their disabilities … shy away from shelters,” Karen Cavanaugh, director of development and communications at Liberty Community Services, said. “If you have trauma, you’re not going to want to sleep in a room full of strangers.”
Cavanaugh said Liberty Community Services will work with the Outreach & Engagement Team — a group of community organizations — to identify possible clients for the program.
“These people aren’t going to come knocking on our door,” Cavanaugh said. “You have to build trust so that they even consider the possibility of positive change.”
Liberty Safe Haven is the first program in the state and one of the first in the nation where residents do not have to conform to service goals to retain housing. In fact, residents can stay at Liberty Safe Haven indefinitely.
“Without Liberty Safe Haven, these [people] would have been on the streets, in jails, in detox centers or they’d be dead,” Cavanaugh said. “If they stay 15 years, we’ve saved their lives.”
But Cavanaugh said that ideally, “within a couple of years they’ll feel healthy, stable and optimistic enough to consider other housing options.”
Ward 10 Alderman Ed Mattison applauded the program’s mission to provide permanent housing.
“Shelters are a terrible way for people to live. They destroy people’s morale,” Mattison, who is director of the South Central Behavioral Health Network, said. “It’s like locking people in cages.”
Mattison identified two problems with Liberty Safe Haven — its high budget and small size. At a cost of $40 to 50 thousand per person per year, Mattison said the program is unsustainable. He added that 33 residences are insufficient to serve the needs of the community, as “we could fill those [spots] five times over.”
But he remains optimistic about the project.
“[Liberty Community Services] believes that these folks can, with a great deal of care, turn their lives around. I hope that’s true.”
Tony Bialecki, deputy director of economic development for New Haven, said the project will also help non-clients in the Ninth Square district by providing jobs, increasing spending, and renovating a blighted property, the historic F.D. Grave building.
“Where supportive housing comes into a problematic neighborhood, property values increase,” Bialecki said.
Bialecki also said Liberty Safe Haven is an excellent program and will serve a critical need in the community.
“With all those not-in-my-backyard kind of projects, the key important issue is how they’re run and who they’re run by,” he said. “[Liberty Community Services] has a great track record and we have a very comfortable feeling that it will be a great neighbor.”