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

Volunteers of America plans to add behavioral health care to its residential programs in Spokane with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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

“There’s not enough resources in the community,” McRae said. “We can’t take care of everyone who needs help.”

This is what led Volunteers of America East Washington to decide to become a certified community behavioral health clinic.

“We had to start providing more in-depth services in order to be successful in accommodations and residences,” she said.

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

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Homeless people often have trauma that caused them to lose their 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.

“I guarantee you that every single person who is currently homeless is struggling with depression,” she said. “I don’t know how I couldn’t.”

Once installed, it’s quiet, McRae said. People are spending more time alone and it’s hard to adjust, she said. They can 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 this point, they need to work on processing and healing their traumas to move toward their goals, McRae said.

“That kind of goes away and then the next thing they might have to work on is the trauma of homelessness or the trauma of the cause of homelessness,” McRae said. “We need behavioral health care here to really address these issues so that 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 determine what people needed in their programs. They then reached 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 scholarship, which they received on September 29.

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

The program will meet all of its new licensing requirements with the Department of Health, 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 put into a permanent housing program, McRae said. About 220 people are currently involved in the supported housing program, she added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all need behavioral health care; some just stop for bus fare or use shelters during transitional periods in their lives, she 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 companies for its services, which helps make the program sustainable, McRae said. There is also an option to extend the SAMHSA grant after the first four years, she said. McRae added that the new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a number of new grants.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.


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