Drop in for coffee, a chat and some mental health support

Staff area by day and welcoming cafe on weekend evenings (MelbourneCatholic)

At night, the red Emergency sign of St Vincent’s Hospital Fitzroy is a beacon for the homeless and socially isolated, and now a new drop-in cafe can provide them with coffee, conversation and mental health support. Source: Melbourne Catholic.

Emmy-Lou Hamley is a specialist mental health clinician at St Vincent’s and project manager of the Safe Haven Café.

“‘Emergency departments are for people in pretty dire situations,” she says. “We realised there was a group of people who needed somewhere else as an alternative to the emergency department. If someone isn’t in acute distress, where can they go to talk to somebody?"

Safe Haven Café is designed to meet such a need. It's a weekend drop-in service, giving potential mental health patients another option instead of the emergency department. The café was not designed to replace clinical mental health interventions, but to allow people to explore what options may be available to support them, and identify relevant local services.

Instead of bearded baristas, the café is staffed by a mental health clinician and peer support workers like Michael, who has a lived experience with mental health. Each night, he sits with people in the emergency department.

“Doctors or nurses or members of the alert team will point me towards people who are lonely or might benefit from some company,” Michael says. And if they fit a specific set of criteria, he directs them over.

On weekdays, the Safe Haven Café is a staff lounge and art gallery at St Vincent’s hospital. But at nights over the weekend, a hot drinks station is set up in a corner with snacks, books line the windows and tables are stacked with board games.

Michael believes the café is already been successful, recalling situations when he’s noticed people feeling marginalised who didn’t need to be presenting to the ED, and asked them to the café for a free coffee, snacks and a chat.

“Then the next time they come to the café instead of the ED. There’s been multiple people like that so far.”


Coffee and conversation: Safe Haven Café opens at St Vincent’s Fitzroy (Melbourne Catholic)

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