Federal grant would help Missoula’s chronically homeless

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

A grant aimed at serving Missoula’s chronically homeless could help them access a disability income and gain eventual treatment and housing, so long as the city’s application finds success within the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

The five-year Grant to Benefit Homeless Individuals could potentially provide $400,000 a year to hire or train new positions that would serve the chronically homeless by helping them apply for disability insurance.

“If awarded, the grant would allow us to create a very intensive program for chronically homeless men and women who struggle with substance abuse and mental health,” said Eran Pehan, director of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “It would allow us to address their health, their mental health and their social needs, all leading to the ultimate goal of finding and maintaining stable, permanent housing.”

Sindie Kennedy, a grants administrator with Missoula County, said the program has a stringent definition of chronic homelessness, which must include a disability.

That segment of the city’s population is currently underserved, she said.

“That could be a physical disability, and substance abuse and co-occurring disorders are also considered a disability,” said Kennedy. “We’d be targeting that specific population that we actually really don’t have services for in Missoula.”

The effort marks a partnership between the city and county, the Partnership Health Center, the Poverello Center and Providence St. Patrick Hospital. The city remains the primary applicant in a partnership approved this week by Missoula County commissioners.

Kennedy said the grant would help Missoula lower the barriers for homeless individuals struggling with chronic addictions and other disabilities.

“These are typically the folks that are the most difficult to house,” said Kennedy. “We know the Poverello doesn’t accept folks that are inebriated. We need to figure out how to get folks housed through treatment, so they can proceed with sobriety.”

Those behind the effort say the grant would cover the cost of training local expects to help the homeless complete a number of applications, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

One of those specialists could be housed at the Partnership Health Center, according to Mary Jane Nealon, the clinic’s director. Known as SOAR, the position serves as a technical assistant in outreach, access and recovery.

“It’s a certification that helps those people who are most likely to get approved for Social Security but will have the hardest time completing that application because they’re seriously ill with a mental illness, a brain injury or some other disorder,” said Nealon. “They require a lot of help getting the document done, but with some help, the rate of approval is much higher.”

The grant is housed within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Like the city’s plan to end homelessness, the federal program also seeks to end homelessness through increased access to SSI and SSDI supportive incomes.

If the city succeeds in landing the grant, Nealon said, it could have broad community benefits.

“It could potentially bring a lot of support to those folks who are really the most chronically homeless in the community,” said Nealon. “We also see people change when they have income. Sometimes getting that approval is the thing that sparks hope.”

Kennedy said Missoula needs more experts trained in the application process to help the chronically homeless apply for SSI and SSDI.

“It’s an extremely cumbersome process and it sometimes takes years to get folks benefits,” said Kennedy. “Getting folks trained to help complete those applications will speed up that process and get people that funding.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com