Local program now helping 300-plus homeless individuals

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 6:49pm
Staff reports

Five years after its start, a Metropolitan Homelessness Commission program is now allowing more than 300 eligible homeless individuals to receive their monthly benefits from the U.S. Social Security Administration, according to information the commission has released.

The program — called SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery) — has generated a minimum of $6.1 million for local beneficiaries since 2006 and has greatly reduced dependency on local taxpayers to provide their care, according to Clifton Harris, executive director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.

SSI (Supplemental Security Income)/SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) Outreach Access and Recovery is locally administered by Park Center, a non-profit agency that creates opportunities and promotes recovery for persons with mental illness.

Harris said the goal of the SOAR program is to connect homeless individuals to SSI or SSDI funds.

Harris said that as a planning and coordination entity, the commission contracts with local service providers such as Park Center to implement programs. Park Center currently has three staff members working fulltime on the SOAR program and provides SOAR training to other local service providers.

Since 2006, the program has successfully connected 314 homeless individuals with benefits and Medicaid or Medicare, said Barbara Quinn, president and CEO of Park Center.

"The average monthly benefit is about $674," Quinn said. "This income is the first step to recovery and opens doors to move into housing, find employment and become healthy and self-sufficient members of the community.”

Park Center shows a success rate of 97 upon initial application. Nationally, about 37 percent of individuals who apply for SSI/SSDI benefits are approved based on their initial application. That initial success rate falls to 10-15 percent for the homeless population, according to the national SOAR Technical Assistance Center out of New York.

The appeals process takes on average two years to maneuver through.

Homeless individuals who are assisted by Park Center receive their SSI/SSDI approval on average within 65 days. These incomes have helped move people out of homelessness.

“Thanks to the excellence of Park Center, our local program has received national recognition from NAMI (the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) and by the National Alliance to End Homelessness,” Harris said.