Volunteers of America plans to integrate behavioral health care into its Spokane housing programs with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of Substances.
With behavioral health resources in short supply in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide more in-depth services for people to be successful once they secured housing, she said. said Beth McRae, director of development.
“There aren’t enough resources in the community,” McRae said. “We just can’t take care of everyone who needs it.”
This led Volunteers of America Eastern Washington to decide to become a certified community behavioral health clinic.
“We needed to start providing more in-depth services so they could be successful in housing and stay housed,” he said.
VOA operates 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Young Adult Shelter, along with a permanent supportive housing program. The program will provide integrated care, meaning behavioral health doctors will join people’s care teams, McRae said.
Homeless people often have trauma that caused them to lose their housing, McRae said. They are also traumatized while living on the streets, he said.
They’re used to being in survival mode, worried about where they’ll sleep that night or what to eat, McRae said.
“Every homeless person right now I guarantee you is struggling with depression,” he said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”
Once housed, it’s quiet, McRae said. People are spending more time alone and it can be difficult to adjust, she said. They may also discover chronic health problems they didn’t realize they had until they were in a safe place away from the stressors of homelessness, McRae said.
At that point, they need to work on processing and healing their traumas to move toward their goals, McRae said.
“That goes away, and then the next thing they have to work through is maybe the trauma of being homeless or the trauma of what homelessness causes,” McRae said. “That’s where we need behavioral health care to really address these issues so people can really move forward in a healthy way.”
After deciding to add behavioral health to its services, VOA conducted an assessment to find out what people needed from its programs. They then reached out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.
In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere to be the vice president of integrated care. They applied for the SAMHSA grant, which they received on September 29.
Over the next year, the program will hire additional physicians, medical staff and a medical director. These providers will join people’s existing care teams which often include a peer support specialist and a case manager.
The program will complete all of its new licensing requirements with the health department, McRae said. By the end of the first year, they hope to have about 100 participants receiving behavioral health services.
Those people will largely be in the permanent supportive housing program, McRae said. The supported housing program currently has about 220 people, he added.
About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all have a need for behavioral health care; Some just stop to get a bus pass or use shelters during transitional periods in their lives, he said.
Each year, the program should add about 100 participants, with the goal of 500 people receiving behavioral health care by the end of the four-year fellowship.
Becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic will allow VOA to bill insurers for its services, which helps make the program sustainable, McRae said. There is also the option of an extension of the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, he said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a slew of new grants, McRae added.
The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.