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

Volunteers of America plans to integrate behavioral health treatment into its housing programs in Spokane 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 succeed once they get housing, said Beth McRae, director of development.

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

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

“We needed to start providing more in-depth services so they could succeed in housing and stay at home,” 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 clinicians will join people’s existing treatment teams, McCray said.

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Homeless people often have trauma that led to losing their housing, McCray said. They are also traumatized while living on the streets, she said.

They’re used to being in survival mode, worried about where they’ll sleep that night or get their next meal, McCray said.

“Every person who is homeless right now, I promise you we are struggling with depression,” she said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

Once settled in, it’s quiet, McRae said. People are spending more time alone and it can be difficult to adjust, she said. They also may discover chronic health problems they didn’t realize they had until they were in a safe place away from the stressors of homelessness, McCray said.

At this point, they need to work on processing and healing their traumas to move toward their goals, McCray said.

“That kind of goes away, and then the next thing they have to work on maybe is the trauma of being homeless or the trauma of what causes homelessness,” McCray said. “That’s where we need behavioral health care 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 understand what people in their programs needed. Then they turned 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 September 29.

During the coming year, the program will employ additional clinicians, 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 complete all of its new licensing requirements with the Department of Health, McCray 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 largely be in the permanent supportive housing program, McCray said. The supported housing program currently has about 220 people, she added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all of them need behavioral health care; Some simply stop for a bus pass or use shelters during transitional periods of their lives, she said.

Each year the program should add about 100 participants, with the goal being that 500 people will receive behavioral medical treatment 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, McCray said. There is also an option to extend the SAMHSA grant after the first four years, she said. The new approvals will also make VOA eligible for a variety of new grants, McRae added.

The association also relies on local donors and fundraising in the community.


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