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 Spokane residential 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 early on in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide in-depth services to help people succeed once they found housing, said development director Beth McRae.

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

Volunteers of America decided to become a certified community behavioral health clinic in Eastern Washington.

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

VOA operates 15 local programs, including three shelters: Pedestrian Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter, and Young Adult Shelter and Permanent Supportive Housing Program. The program provides integrated care, meaning behavioral health clinics are integrated into people’s existing care teams, McRae said.

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Homeless people are often traumatized and dislocated, 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 what they’re going to eat next, McRae said.

“I guarantee anyone who is homeless right now is dealing with depression,” he 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 issues they may not be aware of until they are in a safe place away from the stresses of homelessness, McRae said.

At that point, they need to work on processing and healing their wounds to reach their goals, McRae said.

“That kind of thing goes away, and then what they have to work through is maybe the trauma of being homeless or the trauma that led to homelessness,” McRae said. “That’s where behavioral health care is needed to address these issues so that people can move forward in a really healthy way.”

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After deciding to add behavioral health to its services, VOA conducted an assessment to determine what people in its programs needed. They then reached out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.

In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere as vice president of comprehensive care. They applied for the SAMHSA grant and received it on September 29.

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

The program will meet 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 are mostly in permanent supportive housing programs, McRae said. There are currently about 220 people in the supported housing program, he added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all of them need behavioral health care; some stop to catch buses or use shelters during life transitions, he said.

Each year, the program aims to enroll about 100 participants, and by the end of the four-year grant, 500 people will receive behavioral health care.

Being a certified community behavioral health clinic allows VOA to bill insurers for its services, which helps keep the program sustainable, McRae said. There is also an option to extend the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, he said. The new certifications make VOA eligible for new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit organization also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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