Accessing Mental Health Housing through SPOA
(Column: Ask the Housing Experts)
Brooklyn Becomes the Place to Live
Lauren Bholai-Pareti, Executive Director, Council on Homeless Policies and Services & Daniel J. Stern, Housing Consultant, Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS)
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The Single Point of Access Brooklyn Housing Demonstration Project, otherwise known as SPOA, has been operating in Brooklyn since August 2001. The SPOA project uses a centralized database to connect eligible mental health consumers with appropriate vacancies in Brooklyn's mental health housing system. The overall goals of the project are to improve access to housing and related services for people with psychiatric disabilities and to collect data on housing needs and the availability of services for consumers with special needs.

The Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) has been contracted to provide administrative support for the SPOA project. Using an extensive database that tracks housing vacancies and services offered by housing providers, CUCS assists consumers and their referring workers in locating a program that most closely meets applicants' needs and preferences. Applicants are eligible for the Brooklyn Pilot if they have a serious and persistent mental illness, are not New York/New York eligible, and have requested Brooklyn as a borough preference or have a last known address in Brooklyn or have family in Brooklyn.

CUCS' team of Housing Consultants reviews each SPOA housing application (HRA 1995), consults with the referring worker, then, using the housing database, generates three housing referrals for each applicant. CUCS also tracks and reports placement information to New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH).

Some mental health consumers, including young adults and people who use substances or who have limited substance-free time, have difficulty accessing mental health supportive housing. Sometimes consumers submit multiple applications to housing providers and are not offered a single interview. Other consumers might attend multiple interviews, but they are not accepted into housing. Often, consumers who attended interviews do not learn why they were not accepted.

Consumers who are referred to housing through the SPOA process will receive referrals to three housing providers who most closely meet their needs and preferences. CUCS will make three referrals within 24 hours of receiving a complete housing application. Consumers are guaranteed to be invited for an interview with all three housing providers. Once housing providers have received a complete SPOA application packet, they are expected to schedule an interview within nine business days. Once the interview has occurred, if a housing provider is unable to accept a consumer referred by SPOA into housing, the provider must document the reason why the consumer was rejected. If none of the three housing providers accepts the consumer into housing, OMH will convene a case-planning meeting to discuss what services are needed to allow the consumer to obtain supportive housing. OMH encourages consumers to participate in case-planning meetings.

In addition to the advantages discussed above, SPOA will also significantly expand information available about who is getting access and who is not getting access to mental health housing. The data gathered will help to determine what types of services should be developed in the future in order to better meet the housing needs of all mental health consumers.

SPOA is a demonstration project sponsored jointly by OMH and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The SPOA pilot project began in August 2001 by accepting referrals exclusively from six referral sources in Brooklyn. Ultimately, it is OMH's goal to have a city-wide SPOA system. The demonstration project is intended to ensure the system's effectiveness before it is expanded to other boroughs. In January 2002, the project began to expand to additional referral sources, and now includes all referral sources in Brooklyn. A date for expansion beyond Brooklyn has not yet been determined.
For more information about the SPOA Housing Demonstration Project, contact a CUCS Housing Consultant at 212-801-3333.
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