Since 1979, Central City Concern (CCC), a large homeless
service provider in Portland,
Oregon has been fulfilling its
mission of “providing pathways to self-sufficiency through interventions in
poverty and homelessness.” CCC’s continuum of housing, treatment, healthcare
and employment touches the lives of over 12,000 low-income and homeless
individuals each year. In 2008, CCC formally entered into a partnership with
the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Services
(DDS) to expedite applications for disabled homeless individuals so they could
qualify for the benefits and entitlements needed to end their homelessness.
This collaborative partnership also includes Portland’s
largest homeless shelter provider, Transition Projects, Inc., and Portland’s adult homeless
street outreach provider, JOIN.
This collaborative effort began in 2004 with one Benefits
Specialist on the CHI-funded Community Engagement Program (CEP), followed in 2006
with selection of Oregon
as one of the first SSI/DI Outreach Access and Recovery (SOAR) trained states.
Trained as a SOAR trainer, CEP Benefits Specialist Mellani Calvin helped train over
250 providers about SSA and DDS’s requirements and the mechanisms that can be
put into place to maximize successful applications. As benefits acquisition
became increasingly recognized as a critical component to both ending and
preventing homelessness, Portland’s
10 Year Plan, “Home Again,” added a goal to address this service gap.
As part of the SOAR planning process, a group of Portland
homeless advocates convened and identified the need to 1) secure funding for a
fully-staffed team to expand access and 2) solidify a formal partnership with
SSA and Oregon DDS. The effort included meeting with and educating City and
County government and Oregon’s
congressional delegation. Region 10 SSA
and Oregon DDS were invited to and attended several planning meetings after
receiving letters from the congressional delegation supporting local efforts.
By using as an example the successes of the SSA HOPE-funded
BART team at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless along with the groundwork
established through the SOAR initiative, CCC was successful in securing
$611,000 for a two-year project via three separate funding streams. Funders
include the City of Portland,
Northwest Health Foundation/Kaiser Community Investment Fund, and Providence
Health Systems (an area hospital and health service provider). Additionally CCC
secured a Memorandum of Understanding among CCC, SSA and Oregon DDS that identified the
nature of the partnership and the quality of the applications that would be
submitted for review.
The newly funded Benefits and Entitlement Specialist Team
(BEST) was hired and trained by March 2008, and is led by Oregon State SOAR
trainer Mellani Calvin. Mellani’s six
years of previous experience as a paralegal and as the CEP Benefits Specialist
was critical to implementation of this new team. National training support was
also provided by Healthcare for the Homeless, Dr. Virginia Luchetti and SOAR
founder Yvonne Perret.
BEST staffing includes: 1.0 FTE BEST Program Manager; 1.0
FTE Admin/Data staff; 4.0 FTE Benefit Specialists; .25 FTE Neuropsychologist;
and .50 FTE Medical provider time.
The team is now located within the Old Town Clinic, CCC’s
Federally Qualified Health Center, which allows for close proximity to medical
providers who are being trained to identify the most relevant medical findings
to support disability applications. In its first three months of operation,
BEST has reviewed 125 referrals and enrolled 37 individuals with another 17 in
process. Six applications have been submitted to SSA with 2 awards occurring in
16 and 15 days respectively -- and no denials. While the program is in its
infancy, it is on target to serve 120 individuals this year. To date, both the
local SSA office and Oregon DDS report the ease with which they are able to
process these fully documented applications!
For more information about BEST, contact Mellani Calvin at email@example.com