Man's success story shows how SOAR program works
By Larry Sackett
Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.
One year ago Howard Long, 50, was homeless, had no income, and was living outdoors. He had been to the emergency room at least twice and had been arrested for sleeping in public.
Today Long rents an apartment, pays for groceries and utilities and has health insurance from Medicare.
What changed Long’s life is an innovative program called SOAR, which last year helped get 31 chronically homeless people in New Hanover County into housing.
SOAR stands for SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery.
SSI is Supplemental Security Income and SSDI is Social Security Disability Insurance; both are administered by the Social Security Administration.
SOAR is part of the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in the Cape Fear Region, which is administered by United Way.
Dan Ferrell, the plan’s strategic director, said the primary goal is to provide stable housing to high-risk, low-income individuals and families.
“Communities like those in the Cape Fear region have become increasingly aware of the high costs of homelessness in terms of law enforcement, emergency room care and social services,” Ferrell said. “SOAR is one of our major initiatives to reduce the costs of homelessness.”
SOAR-acquired benefits bring taxes back to state and local communities.
In 2011, according to Ferrell, the 31 clients in the Cape Fear region will receive about $268,000 in income, which they will spend for rent, utilities and other necessities.
He said benefits resulting from SOAR will significantly exceed the costs of the program.
Scott Whisnant, director of government affairs for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, also cited the benefit to the community.
“Hospitals have to absorb the costs of treating chronic disabled homeless people, ” Whisnant said. The cost gets passed back to the community.
It’s a lot better, he said, to address the core causes of homelessness.
SOAR case manager Kathryn Winston did the detailed interviews and paperwork for Long’s application.
“You have to get to really know people like Howard if you are going to help them,” she said. “The application process requires intense documentation.”
Winston works for Triangle/Coastal Disability Advocates, whose local executive director is Michael Hosick.
Applying for the benefits is “very complicated, difficult and somewhat adversarial,” Hosick said. “Homeless people in particular can quickly get frustrated and give up.”
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who is on the board of the 10-Year Plan, said of SOAR, “It’s nice to see that a lot of hard work is paying off.”
“People complain about the homeless and tell us to just get them off the street,” he said. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
Long, a former U.S. Army helicopter mechanic, described how his life has changed: “One year ago I was living in an outdoor camp in the woods near Greenfield Lake. I’ve been homeless for a number of years.”
“I have a roof over my head,” he said, “and I don’t cringe when I see a policeman.”
Source: Wlimington StarNews Online