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

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

“With a lack of behavioral health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early on in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide more in-depth services for people to be successful once they find housing,” said Beth McRae, director of development .

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

That’s why Volunteers of America Eastern Washington decided to become a certified community behavioral health clinic.

“We needed to start providing more in-depth services so that they can be successful in housing and stay housed,” he said.

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Young Adult Shelter, as well as a permanent supportive housing program. The program will provide integrated care, meaning behavioral health clinicians will join the person’s existing care team, McRae said.

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People who are homeless often have a trauma that leads them to lose their housing, McRae said. They are also traumatized while living on the streets, he said.

They were used to survival mode, worrying about where they were going to sleep that night or get their next meal, McRae said.

“Everyone who is homeless right now I guarantee you are struggling with depression,” he said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

McRae once said that he kept quiet. People spend more time alone and it can be difficult to adjust, he said. They also may discover chronic health problems they didn’t realize they had until they were in a safe place away from the stress of homelessness, McRae said.

At this point, they need to work on treatment and healing their trauma to move toward their goals, McRae said.

“That kind of disappears, and then the next thing they need to work on maybe is the trauma of being homeless or the trauma of causing homelessness,” 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.”

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After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA conducted an assessment to find out what the people in the program needed. Afterward, McRae said they reached out to existing community providers for advice.

In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere as 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 clinicians, medical staff and a director of medicine. These providers will join the person’s existing care team which often includes a peer support specialist and case manager.

The program will meet all of its new licensing requirements with the health department, McRae said. By the end of the first year, they expect to have about 100 participants receiving behavioral health services.

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Those people will largely be in permanent supportive housing programs, McRae said. The supported housing program now has about 220 people in it, he added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all need behavioral health care; Some are just stopping for a bus pass or using shelters in transition periods in their lives, he said.

Each year the program should add approximately 100 participants, with the goal of 500 people receiving behavioral health care by the end of the four-year grant.

McRae said becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic will allow VOA to bill insurance companies for services, helping the program to be sustainable. There are also options for an extension on the SAMHSA grant after the first four years, he said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a host of new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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