MACHIAS — In the fall of 2020, amidst the uncertainty and complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic, a small group of organizations cut the ribbon on a new residential program serving women with substance use disorder and their children. 

Safe Harbor Recovery Home for Women and Children, is the only certified recovery residence in Washington County and provides wraparound support for women in all stages of recovery. It is one of the only recovery residences in the state where mothers can live together with their children.

Located in downtown Machias, Safe Harbor is operated by Healthy Acadia in a building owned by Downeast Community Partners. Safe Harbor is not a treatment program, but rather a supportive living environment in which all pathways to recovery are honored and residents are provided with connections to wraparound recovery supports such as clinical treatment, resource navigation, coaching, parenting support, independent living skills building, education, work opportunities, and more. 

The program was conceived of, designed, and launched by a four-way joint effort that also included the Community Caring Collaborative and AMHC (Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc.). The program partners continue to meet weekly to collaborate on policy, engage in problem-solving, identify resources, and continually broaden the base of wraparound support provided to residents. 

The outfitting and launch of the program was funded largely by the Maine Community Foundation, the Maine Health Access Foundation, and myriad donations from individuals. Ongoing operational support has come from a contract with Maine State Housing Authority. 

Throughout the first half of 2020, donations of items from across the country and many hours of labor contributed by local community members helped to transform the once-empty building into a welcoming and comfortable home. Volunteers spent days scrubbing every surface, assembling furniture, and sorting donations of towels, toiletries, sheets, toys, and more. From among the suggested names for the newly-launched recovery residence submitted by community members, Safe Harbor was chosen for its reference to the sea and because it captured the idea of the residence as a sheltered, calm place to drop anchor. 

In its first year, Safe Harbor has provided housing to 12 women, who have stayed for varying lengths of time, and 12 children. Katie Sell, Community Health Coordinator with Healthy Acadia who serves as Safe Harbor House Manager, connects regularly with residents to provide guidance, support, and celebrate progress. Three women served by the program recently shared their experiences, and the following excerpts are used with their permission. In accordance with HIPAA regulations, individual names have been withheld.

“Safe Harbor – Sober Living Home for Women and Children – has been a life saver for me. I moved into the house one year ago, when it had only been open a few short months. The House gave me the structure that I needed being new in recovery. 

I was introduced to other women going through the same things as I was. The chores I was assigned helped me feel productive and like I was working toward a common goal. Doing the weekly pro-socials allowed me to meet people in the community and gain more sober supports. 

The management at Safe Harbor know endless resources and knew right where to direct me for mental health counseling and substance use counseling. Within the first few weeks of living at Safe Harbor and working on my sobriety I was referred to IOP [Intensive Outpatient Program].  I was nervous to join but stepped out of my comfort zone and attended. I also got a recovery coach that I met with regularly. I could ask my recovery coach for help with anything or call her whenever I was struggling. 

Moving to Machias was the change that I needed. I moved from Woodland which isn’t very far but it’s just far enough to change the people, places, and things that kept me tied down in my hometown. My daughters were able to come into the house and visit during the holidays and whenever they made it over this way. My main reason for moving to Safe Harbor was to get clean but to also reunify with my two daughters. DHHS had custody and my girls lived with my mother. 

During the year I’ve lived at Safe Harbor, there have been many challenges I’ve faced — having all women living together, it is bound to happen. But with all the conflict resolution and coping skills I’ve learned, I was able to address any adversity in a healthy and productive way. 

My sobriety has given me many, many gifts and supports. I have engaged in mental health treatment, substance use treatment, parenting classes, probation checks, drug screenings, and even a few cooking classes. I have established myself in the community and found employment. My daughters love their new school. 

Safe Harbor provided a safe place for my children to be during a trial placement. DHHS was allowed to come announced and unannounced. I have been able to maintain my sobriety and I have shown a lot of change since the beginning of my DHHS case. I officially have all my parental rights back at this time and I honestly feel I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Safe Harbor and all the wonderful things it has put in my path. I will continue to surround myself and my children with healthy, sober supports.”

“I was living in my car. I had next to nothing. I had dug myself so deep back into drugs that I just wanted to die but was scared to and deep in my heart I knew I wanted to live. I knew there was more to life than what I was doing. 

I decided to go to a hospital to detox myself. I knew after that I needed a safe place to live. One that was going to hold me accountable. I looked up women’s sober living. I found a few choices, one that was close to my parents and my hometown where I was born and raised. I found Safe Harbor. 

I decided to go ahead and look at the process of living there. I got an interview to meet with the team for Safe Harbor. My process went very smoothly and I was accepted. I moved into the house and started my journey to recovery. 

I have found so many resources and pathways to help with things I didn’t even know I needed. I have a full time job now. I have access to recovery support in many ways. I can walk to the recovery center right in town. I can also walk to AA meetings. Safe Harbor has helped me in so many ways to learn to live a clean and sober life. I’m learning how to have healthy relationships while living with others. I’m happy that I chose Safe Harbor and they chose me.”

“As a homeless pregnant woman who had just graduated rehab, Safe Harbor was like a miracle just waiting for me to apply. 

I suffer from addiction and I have [for] most of my life. The contacts and programs that have become available to me are countless. It’s a structured, but not over-the-top environment where you are encouraged to be independent in your sobriety, but there are so many people available for when things get rough and guidance is needed. 

I love it here at the house as well as in the community. Safe Harbor house has helped me and continues to help me along the way to becoming the mother and woman I am trying to be.”

“We’re so thrilled to be here at the one-year mark and to report that everything is going great,” said Sell. “Community support has been tremendous. People truly want to help our residents succeed in their recovery. 

Given that, we would like to celebrate Safe Harbor’s birthday by inviting people to donate from a short list of items our residents will always need. It’s like a gift registry!” 

The Safe Harbor team recently identified the following items that anyone interested in celebrating with a gift can donate: adult-sized warm socks, mittens, hats, and scarves; laundry detergent; and gift cards from area businesses that sell household items and/or groceries. 

To make a donation of needed items, or for more information, please contact Sell at 207-255-3741 or katie.sell@healthyacadia.org. To make a financial donation, visit bit.ly/SupportSafeHarbor or mail a check with a memo of “Safe Harbor” to Healthy Acadia, 140 State St., Ellsworth, ME, 04605.


Healthy Acadia is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that engages in a broad range of initiatives to build healthier communities and make it easier for people to lead healthy lives across Washington and Hancock counties, Maine. Learn more at www.healthyacadia.org.