Volunteers of America Eastern Washington will add behavioral health services with $4 million federal grant

Volunteers of America plans to incorporate behavioral health care into their Spokane housing program with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Because of the shortage of behavioral health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide people with more in-depth services to be successful once they received housing, said development director Beth McRae.

“There are not enough resources in the community,” McRae said. “We can’t take care of everyone in need.”

This led to the decision to become a certified community behavioral health clinic by volunteers in Washington, eastern United States.

“We need to start delivering deeper services so they can be successful in housing and accommodation,” she said.

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Youth Shelter, and a permanently supported housing program. The program will provide integrated care, which means behavioral health clinicians will join people’s existing care teams, McRae said.

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Homeless people are often traumatized by the loss of their housing, McRae said. They were also traumatized while living on the streets, she said.

They’re used to being in survival mode, worrying about where they’ll sleep or have their next meal that night, McRae said.

“I promise every homeless person is struggling with depression right now,” she said. “I don’t know how you can’t do it.”

Once set in, it was quiet, McRae said. People are spending more time alone, she said, and it’s hard to adjust. They may also find themselves in a safe place away from the stressors of homelessness that they didn’t realize they had chronic health problems before, McRae said.

At that point, they need to work to process and heal their trauma in order to achieve their goals, McRae said.

“That goes away, and the next thing they need to address is maybe the trauma of being homeless or the trauma that led to it,” McRae said. “That’s where we need behavioral health care to really address these issues so people can really move forward in healthy ways.”

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After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA conducted an assessment to determine what the people in their program needed. They then seek advice from existing community providers, McRae said.

In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere as vice president of integrated care. They applied for a SAMHSA grant and received it on September 29th.

Over the next year, the program will hire additional clinicians, medical staff and a medical director. These providers will join people’s existing care teams, which often include peer support specialists and case managers.

McRae said the program will complete all new licensing requirements with the Department of Health. By the end of the first year, they hope to have about 100 participants in behavioral health services.

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McRae said these people will primarily be enrolled in permanent supportive housing programs. She added that the supported housing program currently has about 220 people participating.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all of them need behavioral health care; some are simply stopping to get a bus pass or use a shelter during a transitional period in their lives, she said.

The program should add about 100 participants each year, with a goal of 500 people receiving behavioral health care by the end of the four-year grant.

Becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic will allow VOA to bill insurance companies for services, which contributes to the program’s sustainability, McRae said. There is also an option to extend the SAMHSA grant beyond the initial four years, she said. McRae added that the new accreditation will also make VOA eligible for a range of new grants.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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