Safe Haven gets Council nod

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After three years of controversy, Safe Haven is coming to Old Town.

We identified this type of program as a high priority in June of 2004 and, perhaps we should have had public input earlier but we are doing that now, said Alexandria Mayor William Euille as City Council held its public hearing on the proposed special use permit to operate a Safe Haven program. Safe Haven is for homeless individuals who are diagnosed with some type of serious mental illness and who may also be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

More than 30 people spoke for and against the program, which will be located at 115 N. Patrick Street in a building that previously housed a day treatment program for Alexandrians with mental illnesses. This program, which served approximately 60 people each day, was relocated to the Alexandria Health Departments new location on King Street in 2005, leaving the Patrick Street building vacant. The Alexandria Community Service Board (CSB) proposed using the Patrick Street location for a Safe Haven program at the time it was vacated and the city concurred.

Initially, the city determined that the program met zoning requirements as multi family and that CSB did not need to apply for a special use permit. Craig Miller, a nearby neighbor, filed a lawsuit to force the CSB to go through the special use permit process because the program qualified as congregate housing and not multifamily. The judge agreed with Miller and CSB began the process of applying for a special use permit last fall.

We have held seven community meetings, three public hearings before the Board of Architectural Review; a public hearing before the Planning Commission earlier this month and now this public hearing, said Mary Riley, chair of the CSB. We have responded to email requests for information and have answered frequently asked questions on our web site. Safe Haven is a proven model for treating this population and we believe that this is the proper location for it. We considered a variety of locations and this was, by far, the best location.

Model program
The building is located on Route 1, near homes, businesses and Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics. We dont believe that this very busy location is appropriate for individuals who need to be in calm, safe environments, Miller told Council.

The Safe Haven model is a low demand residential program that looks at housing first and treatment after that. According to Safe Haven advocates, the Patrick Street program will house 12 residents in three apartments with staff on duty 24 hours a day. Residents will not be permitted to use drugs or alcohol on the premises and will be offered antipsychotic or other appropriate medication but will not be forced to take it. Residents will be carefully screened and, according to testimony from CSB staff, no one will be admitted who has exhibited violent, antisocial behavior or who is a convicted sex offender.

The renovations will cost $795,000, and $570,000 per year to operate.

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