Safe spaces (also called safe havens) are walk-in services that provide a welcoming, supportive environment and an alternative to hospital emergency departments for people experiencing psychological distress.
Stride’s safe spaces in Blacktown, in Sydney’s west, and Wollongong, south of Sydney, allow people in suicidal distress to access trained mental health professionals within their own community, outside of a clinical setting. Importantly, co-design is utilised in the establishment and running of the centres so that the spaces are a partnership between all involved.
Safe Haven in Wollongong was established with funding from NSW Health’s Towards Zero Suicides Initiatives. A co-design process was undertaken by the proactive Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, which consists of representatives from government and non-government organisations, lived experience advocates, carers and community representatives, in order to make the space as suitable and supportive for those in crisis as possible. Stride was engaged to run the service to ensure it was independent from conventional health services and to maintain authenticity of the co-designed space.
As part of Suicide Prevention Australia’s first Knowledge Exchange webinar on safe spaces, Juliet Middleton, General Manager at Stride, shared insights from the establishment and evaluation of their Blacktown Safe Space and Wollongong Safe Haven. Mark Ellis, Service Leader at Stride, shared further insights on the co-design process in the establishment of the Wollongong Safe Haven. Both Juliet and Mark highlighted the vital importance of lived experience voices to contribute to shaping the safe spaces, as well as local input to meet the needs of different communities, rather than single service delivery response.
Supports at the safe spaces includes being able to speak to a peer support worker who can provide understanding and strategies, safety planning, a sensory room that can help support emotional self-regulation, and autonomy to move around and participate in activities such as reading, art, yoga or just having a cup of tea.
Safe space models are new in Australia, and Stride is contributing to the growing evidence base for these services through evaluation of Safe Space and Safe Haven. Blacktown Safe Space has been operating for just over 12 months, with funding from the Western Sydney Primary Health Network. Data has been collected from visitors who rate their level of distress (using a Subjective Units of Distress Scale from 0 – 100) at the beginning and end of their service use. All visitors have shown a reduction in distress when departing Safe Space compared to when they walked in, with 62% of respondents reporting that sitting and chatting with a support worker was most beneficial.
Safe Space and Safe Haven are both staffed by peer support workers with lived experience of suicidal crisis who can provide advice and a shared understanding to those in distress. A quote from a visitor to a safe space emphasises the value of these workers: “It has been very different talking to someone who has been there rather than someone who has only read about what I am going through”.
Attending a safe space is permitted under the NSW COVID-19 Public Health Order, as they are classed as a health service. Safe Space and Safe Haven are open and operating in a COVID safe way. Visitors do not need a referral to drop in. Follow-up phone calls and referral to other appropriate community services are offered, to ensure those who visit are supported and safe.
Find Safe Space and Safe Haven:
Safe Space, Blacktown
24 Panorama Parade
Blacktown NSW 2148
Ph: 0402 511 436, or 0438 945 132
Open Wed – Sat 3-9pm
Safe Haven Wollongong
55 Urunga Parade
Wollongong NSW 2500
Ph: 0401 561 164
Open Wed-Sat 2-10pm