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

Oct. 25, 2022 Updated Tue., Oct. 25, 2022 at 9:18 p.m.

Ruben Covey, a superintendent with the Inland Group, chats with Rae-Lynn Barden, a Marketing and Comms Director for Volunteers of America, as they tour the still-under-construction new Hope House women's shelter on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Hope House, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Ruben Covey, a superintendent with the Inland Group, chats with Rae-Lynn Barden, a Marketing and Comms Director for Volunteers of America, as they tour the still-under-construction new Hope House women's shelter on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Hope House, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

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

With a shortage of behavioral health resources in the Spokane area, program leaders realized early in the COVID-19 pandemic they needed to provide more in-depth services for people to be successful once they get housing, said Beth McRae, director of development.

“There’s not enough resources in the community,” McRae said. “We just can’t take care of everybody in need.”

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

“We needed to start providing more in-depth services so that they could be successful in housing and stay housed,” she said.

VOA runs 15 local programs, including three shelters: Crosswalk Youth Shelter, Hope House Women’s Shelter and the 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 care teams, McRae said.

Homeless people often have a trauma that led to them losing their housing, McRae said. They also are 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, McRae said.

“Every person that is homeless right now I guarantee you is struggling with depression,” she said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t.”

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

At that point, they need to work on processing and healing their traumas in order to move toward their goals, McRae said.

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

After deciding to add behavioral health to their services, VOA did an assessment to figure out what people in their programs need. Then they reached out to existing community providers for advice, McRae said.

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

Over the next year, the program will hire additional clinicians, medical personnel and a director of medicine. Those providers will join people’s existing care teams that often include a peer support specialist and case manager.

The program will complete all 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.

Those people will largely be in the permanent supportive housing program, McRae said. The supported housing program currently has about 220 people in it, she added.

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

Each year the program should add about 100 participants, with the 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 insurers for their services, which helps the program be sustainable, McRae said. There’s also the option for an extension on the SAMHSA grant after the initial four years, she said. The new certifications will also make VOA eligible for a slew of new grants, McRae added.

The nonprofit also relies on local donors and community fundraising.

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