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 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

With a lack of behavioral health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide more in-depth services to people so they would be successful once they got housing, said development director Beth McRae.

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

That led Volunteers of America of Eastern Washington to decide to become a certified community behavioral health clinic.

“We had to start providing more in-depth services so they could be successful in housing and stay in their homes,” she said.

VOA operates 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 doctors will join people’s existing care teams, McRae said.

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

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

“Every person that’s homeless right now, I guarantee you, is struggling with depression,” he said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

McRae says it’s quiet when they take it home. People are spending more time alone, and that can be difficult to adjust to, 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 stresses of homelessness, McRae said.

At that point, they need to work on processing and healing their injuries to move toward their goals, McRae said.

“That kind of goes away and then the next thing they have to work on is maybe the trauma of being homeless or the trauma of being homeless,” McRae said. “That’s where we need behavioral health care to really address those 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 people in their programs needed. They then reached out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.

In January, VOA hired Essa 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 medical director. Those providers will join people’s existing care teams, which often include a peer support specialist and 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.

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Those people will mostly be in a permanent supportive housing program, McRae said. The assisted housing program currently has about 220 people, he added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services every year, but not all of them need behavioral health care. some simply stop to get a bus pass or use shelters in transitions in their lives, he said.

Each year, the program should add about 100 participants, 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 insurers for their services, which helps the program be sustainable, McRae said. There is also an option to renew the SAMHSA grant after the first four years, he said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a number of new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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