S.O.A.R.ing to Reach New Heights

Homelessness has been identified as one of Central Florida’s leading challenges. According to the Council on Homelessness, in 2017 there were 2,074 homeless individuals in Central Florida. A news story on WFTV Channel 9 states, “Most of Central Florida’s chronically homeless population lives in downtown Orlando.” (“Arrests of Homeless People in Orlando,” 2017).

To address this problem, the Social Security Administration developed a national program, known as SOAR (Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) Outreach, Access and Recovery), to end homelessness through increasing access to the disability income benefit programs.

The program is designed to assist eligible adults at risk of or experiencing homelessness, who have a serious mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder. For homeless individuals, access to benefits and income is a first step in recovery.

The SSI/SSDI application process, however, is complicated and difficult to navigate. Nationally, only about 28% of individuals who apply for SSI/SSDI are approved on initial application. For people who are homeless and have no one to assist them, that percentage is cut by more than one half. When applications are denied, appeals can take an average of one year to complete and in that time, applicants often give up hope.

In 2016, with funding from the City of Orlando Community Investment Fund, CLSMF launched its SOAR Program, providing services to Orlando’s homeless population. Upon hiring a paralegal to implement the program, CLSMF achieved a success rate of over 90%, well above the national average of 65%. The cases handled at CLSMF saw recoveries totaling $10,382 in retroactive benefits. One individual was awarded monthly benefits of $165.88, another received $602 per month, and seven others were awarded more than $700 per month.

With a successful start to the program, a new partnership opportunity quickly presented itself. In 2017, CLSMF teamed up with the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida (HSN), the lead agency for the Continuum of Care of homeless services in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties. Their expertise in providing comprehensive services to homeless individuals, along with the services CLSMF offers through the SOAR program, allow us to expedite the process to obtain income and health care for our homeless clients.

Riding on the success of the Orlando SOAR initiative, CLSMF plans to expand this program to the remaining 11 counties in our service area, leveraging our relationships with our community partners in each area.