The establishment of the Safe Haven Cafe was funded through the Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund in 2017-18. The aim of the project was to provide a safe, therapeutic space for mental health consumers, based on the Safe Haven Cafe model used in the UK. 

With few mental health services operating out of business hours in central Melbourne, the project team at St Vincent’s Hospital identified the need to provide an alternative non-clinical service to emergency department for people with a mental health condition. Staff at the cafe include social workers, peer support workers and volunteers. Watch the video to see inside the cafe and hear from staff and a consumer about how this cafe has benefited the community.

Martin Smith - Executive Director, Integrated Care Services:
Safe Haven Cafe is a project that’s really about providing a safe alternative place for people who are experiencing mental health crisis as opposed to the emergency department. Which the emergency department, whilst the staff do a great job, it’s not always the best environment for people experiencing a mental health issue. So this project is really about providing an alternative space for consumers to feel safe.

Fran Timmins - Safe Haven Cafe Project Manager:
For a lot of consumers, they will go to an emergency department and it’s a very cold and clinical place. It’s also a place where it’s life and death. It’s busy, it’s often frenetic and there’s not a lot of information about what’s going on because people are busy saving lives. And so if you’ve gone there because you don’t know where else to go to feel safe then that can be really intimidating. And we try really hard in our clinical spaces to make people feel welcome but everything that we do in our clinical spaces puts us on an unequal footing with the people that come to us and that power position never shifts. The really interesting thing about the cafe is how that power doesn’t exist so that people engage with you on a level that we don’t normally have engagement with.

Annie - Lived Experience Worker:
It’s where we provide a mental health clinician and one peer support worker all the time and I’m the peer support worker so I’m someone who has had a lived experience of mental health. And therefore I can appreciate and step along the way with the clients who present, understanding some of the difficulties that they are going through along the pathway.

Daisy Gleeson - Mental Health Clinician:
I’m the clinician at Safe Haven Cafe, but my role here is more as a peer worker. So I sit with people, I talk to them, we have one on one conversations and we might chat as a group. But my role is just to sit back and see what’s happening in the space to make sure everything is running smoothly and also to provide support to the other staff.

Michael Black - Lived Experience Peer Worker:
From the ground up it was designed by peer support workers by people that had experienced things in their life and we were very open in asking them how it would be designed, how would you feel comfortable about it. We didn’t come with the assumption of this is what people need. We asked the people what they would like and it’s just much more of an equalising environment for everybody involved. 

Fran Timmins - Safe Haven Cafe Project Manager:
So a lot of our referrals come from within the group of people that actually attend the cafe often. Some of our consumers come from contact with their clinicians and they bring them up here and help them settle in. 50% of the people come to visit the cafe for the first time come across with our lived experience ED peer support worker.

Michael Black - Lived Experience Peer Worker:
So my role within the emergency department is to chat with people in there that are feeling similar, left out, a bit lonely, isolated and I can have a conversation with them and be like “Hey, you know in the community there is actually something available that is maybe an alternative to the emergency department and would you like to come over, have a bit of coffee, have a chat with us or just chill out and read the newspaper?”

Sue - Consumer at Safe Haven Cafe:
I can sometimes be a bit socially isolated and I can also feel quite lonely. I’ve been in hospital, I’d had a really severe depression and psychosis. What I’ve noticed in the last couple of months is that I definitely don’t get as lonely as when I started coming here. To the point that I actually might not even come here as regularly as I use to come. Like when I started, I wanted to come here every hour that it was open and every day. And as where is now I actually quite enjoy sort of leading my own life a bit more. If Safe Haven hadn’t been here, it’s quite possible I would have been presenting to emergency. It gave me sort of a place to talk to professionals and peer workers and people outside of places like emergency or resorting to another crisis admission. Just place you can be yourself, you can have a bit of a chat to a peer worker about struggles you might be having that they might be able to relate to. But just in a really casual sort of way.

Fran Timmins - Safe Haven Cafe Project Manager:
What we found with our evaluation is that people came to us feeling safe, which was one of the things we wanted to achieve when we opened the cafe. The thing we weren’t expecting was for people to feel that sense of social connectedness. It wasn’t something we identified and yet it’s something our consumers have clearly identified. And the other thing we know is that it’s a cost-effective alternative to people presenting to ED. So it’s worth the investment because it helps people and it is not as expensive as someone going to an emergency department. 

Douglas Travis – Char, Better Care Victoria Board:
The Safe Haven Cafe project is another example of how Better Care Victoria with its funding of projects not only delivers the individual project but it helps educate the workers and the health care professionals who are out there how to deliver, put together projects, how to make them sustainable so not only do we have this one project that runs for 6, 12, 18 months but that we can then embed the change so that there is permanent improvement in health outcomes of Victorians.