June 2014 celebrates Safe Haven’s 30th anniversary, the one year anniversary of occupying our new shelter facility, and my 5 year anniversary as executive director/CEO of this most treasured and proven organization. Anniversaries are a time to celebrate, but also a time to reflect.
When I walked into my role and through the doors of Safe Haven – it was clear this was an organization that was beloved, had a rich history, had passionate advocates, donors, board, and staff, and had a critical mission. The positive impact on families was clear, too. However, the board knew that passion alone, while vital to the mission, was not enough. They knew Safe Haven need to find a way to dig deeper into the understanding of why families became homeless in the first place and what others were doing about it across the country that worked; and I aimed to bring a disciplined approach to this work.
Following a research-driven strategy, we developed a new strategic and business plan – one that rested on a theory of change. We looked at research, data, best practices, trends, and made some difficult choices in our program strategies. As we were becoming more sophisticated in our approach, so, too, was the community at large. We began to make the bold, but correct choice, to scale back our transitional housing program, shorten lengths of stay in our shelter, integrate services that were evidence-based (e.g. trauma-informed care, motivational interviewing, critical time intervention, Parent Child Interaction Therapy) and look at a Housing First Strategy. Safe Haven has a new definition of excellence: doing what is most effective, cost-effective, and results-driven.
So we moved swiftly to –and continue to move forward with –a strategy that is community-based (as opposed to site-based), evidence-based, and collaborative across the service community of other nonprofits, city and government agencies, businesses, churches and the faith community. Our new strategy is designed to actually solve the problem of family homelessness – not just manage it. And we are all in on the social impact, beyond the beautiful walls of Safe Haven and creating change in the community. We are not there yet, and we still have a long way to go, but we are moving forward without losing our core culture of compassion, understanding, integrity, excellence, and effectiveness.
On Safe Haven’s anniversary, and my own, we are for the first time on Charity Navigator, an objective data-driven organization that has given us a 4-star rating for our financial stewardship –one of the highest scores possible. We have moved into a newly renovated and expanded facility designed with thoughtfulness, care, energy efficiency, beauty, and safety, to meet the needs of the families we serve and the staff that serves them. We have almost completed a $3 million capital project in less than 2 years. Our return on investment is for less than $40 a day for a family of four (or any size) we provide world-class services, housing, and resources with an over 85% success rate for long-term stability. We work with the Metro Homeless Commission and other agencies that are embracing a community-wide strategy of coordinated services and housing a family as quickly as practical and THEN wrapping services around them to encourage and protect their stability.
Donors know when they give to Safe Haven, their funds are well spent and effective; volunteers know when they volunteer with Safe Haven they will be trained in best practices and supported throughout their service; staff know they will receive training, opportunity, a competitive salary with benefits, and an organizational culture that supports their growth; board directors know they have an opportunity to work with staff to solve a social problem and have profound social impact; and the community knows that any investment of time or treasure is wise, prudent, proven and will lead to positive social change for a better city that doesn’t just throw money at a problem to feel better, but so that we can all be better.
We have much to celebrate, reflect upon, and much work left to do. Thank you, Nashville, for being a part of the Safe Haven story and journey to not just serve families experiencing homelessness, but to reduce and eventually eliminate family homelessness. Other communities have achieved this, and with everyone’s help, so can we.