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’s housing program with help from 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 they needed to provide more in-depth services for people to succeed once they received housing, said Beth McRae, director of development.

“There aren’t enough resources in the community,” McRae said. “We can only take care of everyone who needs it.”

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

“We need to start providing more in-depth services so they can succeed in housing and stay,” she said.

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Young Adults Shelter, along with permanent supported housing programs. The program will provide integrated care, meaning behavioral health doctors will join the person’s existing care team, McRae said.

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Homeless people often have trauma that causes them to lose housing, McRae said. They are also traumatized by living on the streets, she said.

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

“Every person who is homeless today I guarantee you are struggling with depression,” he said. “I don’t know how you can’t.”

Once housed, it was 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’re not aware of until they’re in a safe place away from the stress of homelessness, McRae said.

During that time, they must work on processing and healing their traumas to move toward their goals, McRae said.

“That kind of disappears, and then the next thing they have to work on maybe is the trauma of being homeless or the trauma that causes homelessness,” McRae said. “That’s where we need behavioral health care to really address those issues so that society can really move forward in a healthy way.”

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After deciding to add behavioral health to its services, VOA did an assessment to find out what people needed in its program. Then they reach out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.

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

In the next year, the program will hire additional doctors, medical personnel and medical directors. The provider will join an existing care team that often includes peer support specialists and case managers.

The program will complete all 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 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 of them need behavioral health care; some just stop in to pass the bus or use shelters in the transitional period of 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 insurance for its services, which helps keep the program sustainable, McRae said. There is also an option for an extension of the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, she said. The new certification will also make VOA eligible for several new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraisers.

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