Best Practices Drive MSC’s Success
Today I’m kicking off a series discussing best practices employed at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte (MSC). Each of these is based upon research and results previously demonstrated nationally. More importantly, they’ve been adapted to MSC’s fundamental beliefs (see previous blog postings) and the needs of our clients. They all focus on furthering our mission and vision by directly supporting the work of our equation: Income+Housing+Support=An End to Homelessness. Each week I’ll highlight a different MSC best practice, going in no particular order, and starting today with SOAR.
SOAR is an acronym that stands for SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery. In a nutshell, SOAR is an approach to train case managers to best assist their clients with navigating the complexities of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) application process for social security income and social security disability income benefits. For more technical information about SOAR please visit the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness website www.ncceh.org/ncsoar/. MSC employs a fully trained SOAR Income Specialist Case Manager, Sheila Crump, to help disabled and elderly men complete, submit, and even appeal benefits income applications. While Sheila is highly skilled at knowing how to navigate SSA’s complex application and decision making processes, a key component of SOAR’s success, what makes her especially effective is her heartfelt affinity for the men she serves. Many of these men have severe mental illnesses, making it hard for them to go to SSA offices and deal with bureaucracy. She has often told me that waiting in long lines at SSA offices is so difficult for many of the men to handle that if she isn’t with them they will get up and walk out. Haven’t we all had that urge at times when dealing with governmental bureaucracy. But Sheila goes with them and keeps them calm so they can make their appointments and get approved for the benefits that they are entitled to receive. It used to take at least 18 months to go through the process, so often with the result being a denied application. Through Sheila’s work as a SOAR Specialist, a positive decision is often received in less than 90 days and sometimes even quicker.
So, why is SOAR important to the success of MSC’s equation? First and foremost, men experiencing homelessness are receiving the financial benefits and Medicaid that they are eligible for and entitled to receive. They just couldn’t successfully navigate the process on their own, often because of their mental illness. By getting a permanent source of income in place, the first leg of MSC’s equation, we can help them quickly obtain more appropriate housing, our second leg of the equation, thus ending their homeless experience. And, by establishing Medicaid for these men, they now have a piece of their support system, the third leg of the equation, re-established, a critical step in helping them avoid returning to the shelter.
MSC did not create SOAR. It is a national best practice, promoted and supported in North Carolina through the NC Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH). MSC is thankful for NCCEH’s excellent training, support, and analysis of how critical SOAR is in our efforts to end homelessness. We’re also appreciative of Sheila’s commitment to becoming a qualified SOAR specialist and for her passion for some of our most vulnerable clients. SOAR is one example of how MSC is able to move 500 men into more appropriate housing this year by first helping them obtain the income needed to support that housing. Next week I’ll share a bit about one of MSC’s oldest best practices, Medical Respite. In the meantime, please visit www.MensShelterofCharlotte.org to learn more about how MSC is ending homelessness and like our Facebook page!