26 November 2021

Canberra's long-awaited, much-anticipated first Safe Haven Cafe is finally here

| Lottie Twyford
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Emma Davidson speaking into microphone

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson launched the Safe Haven cafe on Friday (26 November). Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Canberra’s first Safe Haven Cafe – a welcoming space where people with mental health concerns or those experiencing emotional distress can access support – opened in Belconnen on Saturday (27 November).

It’s a space intended to serve as an easier entry point to the system than a clinical emergency room, but is suitable for people who require support beyond what can be provided by community organisations.

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said people will be able to visit the space and speak with peer workers who can offer them support in managing any distress.

“You can come in, connect with someone and get connected to the right services that help with your individual needs.

“It is not just for people with mental health conditions but is available to all Canberrans aged 16 and over, including people in caring roles, who may be facing some challenges and additional stress in their lives,” she said.

“The Safe Haven space will play an important role in supporting people before they reach a crisis point.”

Ms Davidson said reaching this point highlighted the importance of a community co-design process.

“Its design has been guided by people with lived experience, peak mental health organisations, carers, community representatives and emergency department clinicians,” Ms Davidson said.

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In Budget estimates hearings last month, Ms Davidson said the demand for mental health support was expected to increase as people emerged from lockdowns.

The journey to launching this particular space has been a long one with many twists and turns. Initially, funding for a pilot program for two Safe Haven Cafes – one in Canberra’s north and one in the south – was provided through a COVID-19 mental health package in 2020.

A location for the pilot program was to be finalised in January of this year but was delayed due to issues around finding a suitable spot.

The Canberra Hospital was originally flagged as its home, but it was later ruled out given the extensive construction works happening on its campus.

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In October, Ms Davidson told the same estimates hearing that the Belconnen area had been identified as suitable because there were more call-outs for the PACER service there than in other areas.

The Police, Ambulance, Clinician Emergency Response (PACER) program helps people stay out of hospital by instead providing on-the-ground assistance.

Ms Davidson has previously said initiatives like the Safe Haven Cafes and the PACER model help decrease pressure on the acute end of the system which is already under stress.

The Safe Haven at the Belconnen Community Health Centre is a 12-month pilot program, and it will initially be open from 4.30 pm to 9 pm from Tuesday to Saturday.

Ms Davidson said with everything going on at the moment, it’s important for services to be flexible and adaptable.

She noted learnings from the pilot program will help inform future service delivery.

The Commonwealth Government will also fund a Head to Health mental health facility on the same site. It will be run by mental health provider Stride, which already operates two similar spaces in NSW.

If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline’s crisis support line is available 24/7 on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call triple zero (000).

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A great start! As not everyone can easily get to Belconnen it would be good for something in the city, including throughout the weekend.

Interesting idea. However, it’s best to always be quite cautious and guarded about what you say to strangers, and to people who say they are there to ‘help’ you. I know of stories of people who were taken to mental health facilities (against their will) and had mental health orders made against them just because of the seemingly ‘good intentions’ of others.

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