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 housing programs in Spokane with a $4 million grant announced Tuesday from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

With a lack of health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early on in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide in-depth services for people to thrive once they found housing, Beth said. McRae, director of development.

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

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

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

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Young Adult Shelter, as well as a permanent supported housing program. The program will provide integrated care, meaning behavioral health professionals will join existing groups of people, McRae said.

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People who are homeless often have trauma that caused them to lose their homes, McRae said. They are also frustrated while living on the streets, he said.

They tend to be in survival mode, worried about where they will sleep that night or find their next meal, McRae said.

“Every person who is homeless right now, I can assure you, is struggling with depression,” he said.

Once it sits, it’s quiet, McRae said. People spend a lot of time alone and it can be difficult to adapt, he said. They can also find chronic health problems they didn’t realize they had until they were in a safe place away from the stress of homelessness, McRae said.

At that time, they need to work to work and heal their anxiety in order to reach their goals, McRae said.

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

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After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA conducted a survey to find out what people in their programs needed. Then they reached out to local community providers for advice, McRae said.

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

Next year, the program will hire additional nurses, medical staff and a medical director. Those providers will join existing care teams that often include a peer support specialist and a case manager.

The program will complete all of its 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 the regular housing support program, McRae said. The supported housing program currently has about 220 people in it, he added.

About 2,700 people use VOA services each year, but not all have a need for behavioral health care; others are just stopping by to catch a bus or using shelters during their life transitions, he said.

Each year the program should add about 100 participants, with the goal of 500 people receiving behavioral health care at the end of the four-year grant.

Becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic will allow VOA to pay 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 first four years, he said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for many new grants, McRae added.

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


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