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 their Spokane housing programs with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

With a shortage of behavioral health resources 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 were housed, said Beth McRae, director of development.

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

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

“We needed to start providing more detailed services so they could be successful in housing and stay in housing,” he said.

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

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Homeless people often have trauma that led to losing their housing, McRae said. They are also traumatized by living on the streets, he said.

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

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

After getting a home, it’s quiet, McRae said. People are spending more time alone and it can be difficult to adjust, he 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 trauma in order to move toward their goals, McRae said.

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

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After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA did an assessment to find out what people need in their programs. Then they reached out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.

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

Over the next year, the program will hire additional clinicians, medical personnel and a director of medicine. Those providers will join people’s existing care teams which often include a peer support specialist and a case manager.

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

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Those people will largely be in the permanent supportive housing program, McRae said. The supported housing program currently has around 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 stop in for bus fare 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 grant.

Becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic will allow VOA to bill insurers for their services, which helps the program to be sustainable, McRae said. There is also an option to extend the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, he said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a series of new grants, McRae added.

The non-profit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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