2018 A Safe Haven Opioid Town Hall Meeting in Chicago – Hosted by Neli Vazquez Rowland Patrick Kennedy


Recovery from Opioid and Heroin Addiction at the Epicenter of Chicago’s Infamous Heroin Highway Town Hall Meeting Hosts Neli Vazquez Rowland, President of A Safe Haven and Patrick J. Kennedy Heard Stories and Solutions from “Ground Zero”


Chicago, IL — On Thursday, March 1, 2018, A Safe Haven staff, residents and alum convened for a town hall meeting with Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, Congressman Danny K. Davis, Alderman Joe Moore, and Neli Vazquez Rowland, Co-Founder and President of A Safe Haven. The gathering took place at ‘Ground Zero’– at the epicenter of Chicago’s infamous Heroin Highway and hardest hit community where the organization is located, at its 140,000 sq. ft. flagship headquarters — a 400 bed and state licensed drug treatment facility located on Chicago’s West Side. A Safe Haven provides transitional housing, treatment and individualized comprehensive services to over 5,000 people a year. The goal of the meeting was to provide insight for policy leaders as they heard real stories from the front lines that can align narratives and bridge the gap between theory and practice when policymakers are considering best practice, comprehensive behavioral healthcare continuums of care and systemic and repeatable solutions.


A Safe Haven’s Opioid and Heroin impacted residents and alums shared live testimonials of their years of experience enduring the vicious cycle of Opioids, Heroin, Emergency Healthcare, Criminal Justice, Incarceration, and Homelessness. They shared their compelling and tragic stories of the consequences of long-term drug use in a broken social and economic system, and shed light on the toll the opioid epidemic has taken on their lives, their family’s lives and our communities. They shared how, despite all odds, they overcame multiple challenges to achieve sustainable recovery and independent living at A Safe Haven.


I thank everyone at A Safe Haven for what they’ve done to make sure that there are people in this room that may not be alive right now if it had not been for A Safe Haven…we have a nice way of talking about our lives we call it ‘lived experience’ {as if} it is something you can put on your resume, like I came out of the depths of despair and hell and I’m someone you need to invest in, if anyone can do that given what a burden it is to come out the other side of addiction, those are folks you want-people that made it through” – Patrick Kennedy, (former) Congressman


I would like to thank Neli and Brian for their courage and creativity to develop an entity that has become one of the best agencies in the country in this field of work. I don’t know any agency that does a better job. In Cook County when you say “A Safe Haven” almost everyone knows what you are talking about and who you are talking about” – Congressman Danny Davis


Many of us know someone who has been affected by substance abuse and mental health issues, for me it was my father. It was that knowledge [from my father struggling with alcoholism] that led me to take the political risk to support Neil’s and Brian’s vision” – Alderman Joe Moore


I’m 58 years old and I’ve been addicted since I was 17. I went to 28-day programs and it was not a sufficient amount of time. When I’m homeless I’m on the streets, when I’m on the streets I’m right next to drugs. So the two go hand in hand. I’ve been addicted and homeless for so long I got comfortable being there. Now at A Safe Haven I’m inspired to go back to school, I’m inspired go back to work. I ask anyone in the position to fight opioids, the first three times I came to A Safe Haven the beds were full. There should be a part II to ASH. Every time I didn’t get into ASH, I went back to using. A Safe Haven helps me help myself, they don’t give me a fish they teach me how to fish” –  Darryl ASH resident


Everyone at A Safe Haven- the institution- has proved that it is better to be kind” – Abe Thompson, A Safe Haven Board Member


We are grateful to all of the leaders who are here today who have been an important part of our journey at different stages as kindred spirits for the cause, on the front lines as champions and advocates of the issue of addiction before it was popular over 20 years ago. Today with the issue of the opioid epidemic costing us 174 lives a day and more than 67,000 lives a year, more lives than we have lost in Vietnam and the Gulf war combined, it is our moment of truth. The alarms have gone off, now we must all come together to align our efforts to support and advocate for appropriate treatment and aftercare models that reduce the rate of relapse and recidivism with a multi-pronged approach. To truly achieve mental health parity, Health Insurance and Medicaid should expand their benefits to cover the cost of community based State licensed treatment services to allow their customers access to an individualized, assessment driven, and  proven comprehensive behavioral healthcare delivery system and a residential community based continuum of care and aftercare model that solves the root cause(s) and has access to the ability to address co-existing unstable housing and economic conditions of addictions- we need to support a more effective system that gets people clean and sober wherever possible and back to work and permanently housed” – Neli Vazquez Rowland, President, Co-Founder


Crucial funding is needed to support services like treatment, shelter and other holistic wrap around services that are key factors in addressing mental illness and substance abuse conditions. The matter is dire and the situation requires urgent attention and mass support so those caught in the spiral of addictions gain access to the most proven, comprehensive and robust approaches to solving the multi-dimensional issues. We must prioritize and meet these needs rather than persistently cutting and underfunding these critical issues throughout cities and states across America.