“From an early age my life centered on survival,” said Tammy Isaacs, who’s 49. “I was in an out of foster homes and lockups, and I never stayed anywhere long. I’d take off and do whatever it took to survive, including doing drugs and prostitution. Being on the street was my comfort zone and I dealt with a whole lot of abuse, but I don’t want my story to be all about what was negative. Those unfortunate things made the strong woman I am today.”

Tammy had been homeless and sleeping outside for three years until last August, when she was referred to Safe Haven in Westfield. Safe Haven, a program of MHA, offers transitional housing support to people served by the Department of Mental Health who are experiencing chronic homelessness, including those in recovery. “Safe Haven has been a life saver for me,” said Tammy. “When I first arrived, they had a room for me, bedding for me, hygiene products for me. I never had been welcomed like that before, not anywhere. The staff are tremendous, I love them all. Being with Safe Haven and working with the staff has calmed me down so I’m not feeling like I have to be out on the street homeless. Instead It feels like home. It feels like a family.”

Getting off to a good start with the staff was important in helping Tammy become less reactive. “Tammy had problems with communication when she first arrived,” said Samantha Gulsvig, Program Supervisor at Safe Haven. “Safe Haven emphasizes person-centered care and Tammy clearly had some specific needs. We’re helping her realize she can get her point across without being defensive. One result is now she’s able to sit back and look at a situation calmly and instead of blowing up. It’s helped her become much more stable. That’s a real achievement.”

“I can wake up in the morning and like myself as a human being, where I couldn’t before,” said Tammy. “And I see what the future can be like for me. Since I’ve been here, the staff have placed three people in their own apartments. I know they’re doing the same for me, and I have to do my part.”

“Safe Haven is not about placing someone in housing just because we can,” Samantha explained. “It’s about identifying the best opportunity for them to be successful. We need to find Tammy the right apartment, with two bedrooms so her son can be with her on weekends (Tammy has shared custody), and in a community where the right wraparound supports are close at hand. We’ll help her meet people who will be on her outreach team. And she knows she is invited back to visit Safe Haven because we’re family. The opportunity to transition to her own apartment only comes because of the amazing changes Tammy has shown. She is honest, doesn’t hide things, likes the accountability we expect of her, and has greatly improved her communication skills. She’s doing great.”

“I wish they had more houses like Safe Haven in the community, especially for women,” said Tammy. “It’s sad when there’s not a place women can go where they feel safe. They end up on the street because they feel safer there! I was diagnosed with mental illness when I was a girl, and I want people to understand that having mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. It can be addressed with proper care, medication, therapy and a doctor. I know that from my own experience. I have a lot of goals I want to achieve, like going back to school for my GED so I can do things that are productive. My opportunity is coming and I will keep working for it. And I know I’ll always have the support of my Safe Haven family.”