This week brings great news from BayLegal and our partners and funders in the San Francisco SSI Advocacy Pilot. Our team has just surpassed expectations for our first project year in under ten months, with more than 100 cases in which we have provided SSI advocacy to San Francisco residents experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness!
This innovative project launched in September 2018 as a partnership between Tipping Point Community, the San Francisco Human Services Agency, Positive Resource Center, and Bay Area Legal aid to increase access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) by clients who are chronically homeless or at risk of chronic homelessness. SSI provides federally-funded income subsidies of $900 per month or more for low-income people with disabilities. Local general assistance amounts are costly to municipal governments and typically much lower—ranging from less than $100 to $473 per month, and unable to provide significant income stability to help very low-income individuals avert or exit from homelessness. By connecting eligible people to SSI, counties can save money, avoid costly emergency and incarceration costs, and improve outcomes for low-income individuals with particularly challenging health conditions.
The model for the project is rooted in an understanding that nearly 2/3 of chronically homeless people report having a psychiatric or emotional health condition, while 40% report having a physical disability. Large numbers of chronically homeless people are thus likely to meet the qualifications for SSI, but because they are unhoused they face barriers to enrollment. These barriers are intensified by the application process itself: nationwide the majority of first-time SSI applications are rejected. However, over 50% are approved upon appeal, indicating the significant role to be played by attorneys dedicated to overseeing the application and appeals process. The SSI Advocacy Pilot works from this recognition, pairing attorneys with experience in SSI with homeless service offices and intake centers, street outreach teams, and public health fairs to reach clients who are otherwise often hard to reach, ultimately providing income stability to help people transition out of homelessness. This approach also saved local governments significant money, and connects clients with information and representation on the range of other civil legal issues often encountered when living unhoused or in precarious housing. The three-year project was designed to test the hypothesis that such an approach could reach significant numbers of individuals.
Over the past ten months our small but mighty team, led for BayLegal by SSI Supervising Attorney Raegan Joern, has averaged 20 scheduled off-site intakes each month at the Navigation Centers (low-threshold, high-service residential programs for adults experiencing homelessness who are often fearful of accessing traditional shelters and services), St. Vincent de Paul’s Multi-Service Center (MSC) South and the County Adult Assistance Programs (CAAP) office. The team has also conducted multiple outreach events, including street outreach health fairs with the Department of Public Health in the Bayview, Haight, and 6th Street where intakes happened in the rain and the hot sun – demonstrating serious hustle and dedication. BayLegal social worker Carrie Banks has logged many miles and hours helping our clients connect to health care, get their medications, sign up for the city’s coordinated entry systems, and decipher the landscape of service providers. Last month we even had the rare opportunity to place one of our clients, a long-time San Francisco homeless resident, in permanent supportive housing.