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Porchlight's Safe Haven shelter

Porchlight Inc.'s Safe Haven program for homeless men and women with mental illnesses.

When John Cannarella heard a shelter for Madison’s most vulnerable people would close by the end of the year, he decided to do something about it.

Cannarella, who owns A1 Furniture with son Paul, will donate $10,000 to Safe Haven, a Far East Side overnight shelter and daytime drop-in center for homeless people who are mentally ill in an attempt to prevent it from closing.

While the donation is far from the $400,000 the center needs to continue operating, Cannarella said he hopes the donation motivates other Madison businesses and individuals to contribute to keep the shelter, operated by Porchlight, open.

The 14-bed transitional shelter at the nonprofit’s facility on Nakoosa Trail provides services including a volunteer psychiatry clinic, laundry, showers and three meals a day to about 40 drop-in clients daily.

“The people who come to Safe Haven are very vulnerable,” said Karla Thennes, executive director of Porchlight. “The goal for everybody is to get on medication, to get stable, to get sober ... to get their basic human needs met.”

The program is set to close at the end of the year after it didn’t reapply for $350,000 in federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as it had in the past because the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium ranks permanent housing programs higher than transitional ones like Safe Haven, she said.

Fundraising every year isn’t a long-term solution, Thennes said.

She said that she plans to ask the city, county and other foundations for help.

For now, Thennes said, she hopes enough money can be raised to keep the shelter open at least through the winter.

“The day that we would have to close would be January 1st ... that is a disaster waiting to happen,” she said.

Thennes said she started crying when Cannarella left her a voicemail message saying he wanted to help out.

“He told me, ‘We just can’t let this happen. We can’t let you close,’” she said.

Porchlight didn’t apply for the federal money because the consortium, which distributes money to area agencies, and HUD emphasize permanent housing programs over temporary ones, Thennes said.

To receive more federal money and strengthen its coordinated entry program to help the homeless find housing, the consortium has to prioritize permanent housing programs and not transitional shelters like Safe Haven, said Torrie Kopp Mueller, continuum of care coordinator for the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium.

“We have such limited resources in our community,” she said, adding that the consortium was sorry to hear about Safe Haven’s financial struggles. “When you bring in programs, you’re cutting something to make room for the new.”

On Tuesday, Safe Haven residents said they were worried when they heard that they might have to find other housing, with some saying the only place to go if it closed was the streets.

For five-month Safe Haven resident Sharon Jackson, the shelter has been a safe place for her to live to get clean and deal with her mental illnesses. She said she cried when she heard that it might close down but is relieved that it could remain open.

“It helped change my life,” Jackson said. I think it’s very important they don’t close it down. Where would we go?”

To donate to the Safe Haven program, go to and click on the “donate now” box on the site’s right-hand side.


Bill Novak is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.