Homelessness robs people of more than just housing; it robs you of hope.


At any stage in life, at any socioeconomic level, it can strike. It just takes one event to find yourself in the ultimate financial crisis: a natural disaster, job loss, prolonged hospitalization, mental health crisis, or other trauma.


While this could happen to any of us, for some the old adage of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is not a realistic path to housing. There are individuals who will not re-enter the work force, are disabled, or have barriers to sustainable income streams. They need help to regain hope.


Disability and Social Security benefits are available for many who are homeless or at risk of it, but applying can be daunting. The process is difficult and extensive, and mistakes create yearlong roadblocks. Local nonprofits have done their best to assist eligible people, yet waiting lists have grown to more than 900 names.


There’s no simple blueprint for creating a system of care for homeless adults — but making use of existing dollars is a no-brainer.


This year, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness was proud to launch the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery — SOAR — program, with support from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. Our three-person SOAR team steps in to offer a helping hand by becoming personal navigators, guiding the individual through the complex system and shortening the waiting list for those who qualify.


Through a system developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, our specialists works with social service agencies to assist their most vulnerable clients with increasing income through SSI/SSDI, applying for medical coverage through Medicaid and gaining food security through the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program.


This is a life-changing moment for those who walk through this process, and it opens a world of possibilities.


SOAR is a vital component of the Homelessness Crisis Response System in Sarasota and Manatee counties as it impacts those who are of highest need. Iain DeJong, president and CEO of OrgCode, put it best: “Are we going to spend our time housing those that would house themselves without us, or those that but for us, would not be housed?”


This is the driving idea behind focusing efforts on the neediest in our system: They would not be housed without our intervention. SOAR builds foundational components like a stable income, medical coverage and food security; and it does this for the most vulnerable citizens in our county.


We’re off to a good start, but with the growing need within our two-county system, the fight is far from over. We are not afraid of the daunting task of navigating this system and will not give up. Our SOAR team keeps the individuals in view and walks alongside them the entire journey. Although the benefits may translate as stable income, medical coverage and food security, these specialists will now be able to accelerate opportunities for hope and resolve.


While the program will directly benefit those needing help, the investment will generate a greater return. By streamlining and increasing the amount of available dollars coming in from the federal and state level, local philanthropic dollars will be saved and leveraged to provide expanded services such as housing, health care and mental health treatment.


Chris Johnson is the chief executive officer of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness.