Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are lifelines for people experiencing homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report notes roughly 580,000 people are currently without a home and the National Alliance to End Homelessness found about 25-30 percent have severe physical and mental disabilities.
People who experience homelessness tend to age faster than people who have access to housing because of the stress of living on the street, poor nutrition, social isolation, and the effects of extreme weather and unsanitary conditions. They also often deal with substance use disorders along with severe health issues—including diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
The mental health disorders often also include cognitive problems that make understanding SSA’s terminology and process difficult to navigate. The standard process for applying for SSI and SSDI doesn’t work well for this population. Internet access proves virtually impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the struggle to apply for benefits worse.
Homelessness places limitations on a person’s communication with Social Security. Phone communication (including texts) presents difficulties—as does traditional mail. The limited options for contact and communication often lead to benefit application denial for technical reasons—such as not responding to mail and not keeping appointments. When this happens, individuals continue to re-apply as their health deteriorates and anxiety increases.
Third-party providers and organizations can help people experiencing homelessness navigate the SSI/SSDI process for faster benefit payment decisions. They can assist with taking their benefits applications and provide knowledgeable information and support to this underserved community. Third-party groups include:
- Legal Services providers.
- SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) trained staff.
- Health Care for the Homeless programs.
- Community trained case managers and social workers.
- Protection and Advocacy organizations in each state.
People experiencing homelessness can often start with contacting the Department of Social Services in their state to learn about other service providers who can help. Community behavioral health program providers may also assist homeless individuals to apply for benefits and submit medical information needed for decision-making.
Homelessness doesn’t have to be an ongoing condition for so many of our neighbors. Let’s work together to help those in need and ensure that those who are eligible are approved as early as possible in the process.
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®