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The Secret to Success
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The challenges to accessing benefits and entitlements are nothing new for most homeless providers and those they serve. Central City Concern (CCC) in Portland, Oregon decided to take some steps to address this. This article highlights CCC’s collaborative partnership and commitment to improving the application process and outcomes for the people they serve. (Authors)
the Secret to Success: How collaboration can lead to better outcomes

Since 1979, Central City Concern (CCC), a large homeless service provider in Portland, Oregon has been fulfilling its mission of “providing pathways to self-sufficiency through interventions in poverty and homelessness.” CCC’s continuum of housing, treatment, healthcare and employment touches the lives of over 12,000 low-income and homeless individuals each year. In 2008, CCC formally entered into a partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Services (DDS) to expedite applications for disabled homeless individuals so they could qualify for the benefits and entitlements needed to end their homelessness. This collaborative partnership also includes Portland’s largest homeless shelter provider, Transition Projects, Inc., and Portland’s adult homeless street outreach provider, JOIN. 


This collaborative effort began in 2004 with one Benefits Specialist on the CHI-funded Community Engagement Program (CEP), followed in 2006 with selection of Oregon as one of the first SSI/DI Outreach Access and Recovery (SOAR) trained states. Trained as a SOAR trainer, CEP Benefits Specialist Mellani Calvin helped train over 250 providers about SSA and DDS’s requirements and the mechanisms that can be put into place to maximize successful applications. As benefits acquisition became increasingly recognized as a critical component to both ending and preventing homelessness, Portland’s 10 Year Plan, “Home Again,” added a goal to address this service gap.


As part of the SOAR planning process, a group of Portland homeless advocates convened and identified the need to 1) secure funding for a fully-staffed team to expand access and 2) solidify a formal partnership with SSA and Oregon DDS. The effort included meeting with and educating City and County government and Oregon’s congressional delegation.  Region 10 SSA and Oregon DDS were invited to and attended several planning meetings after receiving letters from the congressional delegation supporting  local efforts. 


By using as an example the successes of the SSA HOPE-funded BART team at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless along with the groundwork established through the SOAR initiative, CCC was successful in securing $611,000 for a two-year project via three separate funding streams. Funders include the City of Portland, Northwest Health Foundation/Kaiser Community Investment Fund, and Providence Health Systems (an area hospital and health service provider). Additionally CCC secured a Memorandum of Understanding among  CCC, SSA and Oregon DDS that identified the nature of the partnership and the quality of the applications that would be submitted for review. 


The newly funded Benefits and Entitlement Specialist Team (BEST) was hired and trained by March 2008, and is led by Oregon State SOAR trainer Mellani Calvin.  Mellani’s six years of previous experience as a paralegal and as the CEP Benefits Specialist was critical to implementation of this new team. National training support was also provided by Healthcare for the Homeless, Dr. Virginia Luchetti and SOAR founder Yvonne Perret. 


BEST staffing includes: 1.0 FTE BEST Program Manager; 1.0 FTE Admin/Data staff; 4.0 FTE Benefit Specialists; .25 FTE Neuropsychologist; and .50 FTE Medical provider time.


The team is now located within the Old Town Clinic, CCC’s Federally Qualified Health Center, which allows for close proximity to medical providers who are being trained to identify the most relevant medical findings to support disability applications. In its first three months of operation, BEST has reviewed 125 referrals and enrolled 37 individuals with another 17 in process. Six applications have been submitted to SSA with 2 awards occurring in 16 and 15 days respectively -- and no denials. While the program is in its infancy, it is on target to serve 120 individuals this year. To date, both the local SSA office and Oregon DDS report the ease with which they are able to process these fully documented applications!


For more information about BEST, contact Mellani Calvin at

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