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

Volunteers of America plans to integrate mental health care into its Spokane housing programs with the help of a $4 million grant announced Tuesday from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

Because of the lack of behavioral health services in the Spokane community, program leaders recognized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that they needed to provide more in-depth support for people to succeed in finding housing, said Beth McRae, director of social services.

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

This led to Volunteers of America Eastern Washington’s decision to become an accredited community hospital.

“We needed to start providing deeper support for them to be successful in the home and stay in the home,” he said.

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and Young Adult Shelter, along with a permanent assisted living program. The program will provide integrated care, meaning that behavioral health professionals will coordinate with existing care teams, McRae said.

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Homeless people often have trauma that led to them losing their homes, McRae said. They are also frustrated living on the streets, he said.

They’re used to living in survival mode, worrying about where they’ll sleep that night or find their next meal, McRae said.

“Anyone who is homeless right now I can assure you that you are dealing with depression,” he said. “I don’t know how you didn’t finish.”

When you settle down, it’s quiet, McRae said. People spend more time and it’s hard to change, he said. They can also develop health problems they didn’t realize until they were in a safe place away from the challenges of homelessness, McRae said.

In the meantime, they need to work on fixing and healing their pain so they can achieve their goals, McRae said.

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“That kind of goes missing, and then the next thing they have to work on is probably the trauma of being homeless or the emotional trauma that homelessness causes,” McRae said. “That’s where we need health care to address these issues so people can move forward.”

After deciding to add wellness to their services, VOA conducted a survey to find out what the people in their programs needed. They then reached out to existing community counseling providers, McRae said.

In January, VOA hired Esa Lariviere as vice president of integrated care. He asked for help from SAMHSA, which he received on Sept.

In the next year, the program will hire additional doctors, medical staff and a medical director. These assistants will join existing care teams that usually include a peer support specialist and a case manager.

The project will meet 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 people receiving mental health services.

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Those people will mostly be in a regular assistance program, McRae said. The assisted housing program currently has about 220 people in it, he added.

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

Each year the program should add about 100 people, with the goal of 500 people receiving health care by the end of four years.

Becoming an accredited community hospital will allow VOA to pay insurance premiums for their services, helping to keep the program sustainable, McRae said. There is also an opportunity to extend SAMHSA’s grant after the first four years, he said. The new guarantees will also make VOA eligible for more new funding, McRae added.

Nonprofits also rely on local donors and community support.

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