What is SOAR


Identifying adults who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness who may be eligible for Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits is an integral aspect of the SOAR model.  While we do not want to discourage anyone from applying for SSA benefits, this tool can help you identify individuals that most need your assistance with their application.

Key Strategies provides best practices for collaborating with partners to help individuals experiencing homelessness successfully navigate the SSI/SSDI application process.

Ready to start your local SOAR initiative? The SOAR TA Center is here to help! We've compiled key documents below to help you get started.

SOAR is about people, not forms. Success comes from compassion, persistence, and confidence in using SOAR and the tools it offers. You do NOT need to become an expert in SSA regulations or have all the answers.

The SOAR model for completing SSI/SSDI applications utilizes five critical components that significantly increase the likelihood of an approval for those who are eligible.

The SAMHSA SOAR initiative is intended for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These terms are defined differently by SOAR and the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is important for SOAR providers to understand these differences when determining who meets the housing criteria to be a SOAR applicant and which cases can be expedited at SSA through the use of the “homeless flag.”

This guide will help you complete an SSI/SSDI application using the SOAR model. You have 60 days from the protective filing date (PFD) to submit a complete application packet to the Social Security Administration (SSA).  We encourage you to complete the process in less time as you are able.

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) is an approach that helps states increase access to mainstream benefits for people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness through strategic planning, training and technical assistance.

How does the SOAR application process differ from the conventional application process?  Let's see how implementing SOAR critical components helps the disability determination process move more smoothly and quickly. 

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) is a program designed to increase access to Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits for eligible individuals who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and have a mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder. 


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SOAR Voices Blogs

Texas Homeless Network logoAfter attending The Texas Conference on Ending Homelessness this October, I knew when I got home that I would sit down to write a blog about my experience. What didn’t occur to me was what my focus would be. This is Texas we’re talking about, so the conference was big in size and substance!

I had the great opportunity to attend SAMHSA’s Homeless Programs Branch Grantee conference this past August 15-17.

It felt so much like a family reunion because the conference brought together so many people united around the same purpose and so many people that I have known for years, feel forever connected to but don’t get to see in-person very often.

By Jon Katherine Martins, Program Administrative Assistant, SOAR Certified Social Security Advocate at Emma Norton Services 

By Beth Argent, Benefits Specialist/Homeless Outreach at the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc in Columbia, South Carolina

By Amy Lamerson, M.S.W., SOAR Ohio Program Manager and SOAR State Lead, Ohio

As the SOAR Ohio State Lead with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), I am excited to share some awesome news. COHHIO has put on a yearly housing conference for many years. For the past 2 years, SOAR Ohio has had the opportunity to offer a few breakout sessions for community providers to learn more about SOAR Ohio and bring attention to SOAR and special populations.

There are few things that connect a person more to their community than a home.  This is especially true when a person who has experienced homelessness finally gets to turn the key to their new apartment.  For September’s Recovery Month, Policy Research Associates, Inc.

Since 2012, the SOAR TA Center has offered a competitive technical assistance award open to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continua of Care (CoCs) nationwide. This award is a chance for the TA Center to provide targeted technical assistance to new areas of the country that are in need of or are interested in expanding SOAR. The award includes a 1-day SOAR strategic planning forum facilitated by staff of the SOAR TA Center, a spot at a 3-day SOAR Leadership Academy, and access to the SOAR Online Course and Online Application Tracking (OAT) program.

Thie blog first appeared on December 8, 2016 on the SAMHSA blog.

By: Jayme S. Marshall, Chief, Homeless Programs Branch, Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Over the past year, many transitions have occurred at the national SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access & Recovery) Technical Assistance Center: we entered into a new contract with SAMHSA, transitioned from in-person trainings to the SOAR online course as the predominant method of training, and created a new national training model known as the SOAR Leadership Academies.  Change is refreshing, reenergizing, and exciting; nationwide we are seeing the results!

By Loren Gallegly
SOAR Case Manager, Human Services Campus - Lodestar Day Resource Center

In October 2014 I became the newest member of the SOAR TA team. It is really exciting to be working on a project that helps people across the country in such a tangible way. The SOAR process gives people who, under normal circumstances, would never have applied for SSA benefits on their own, and if they did, it is likely that they would have been denied and then gave up.

It is a true gift to be able to serve communities across the country in this way and this new opportunity has led me to think about my own personal journey towards recovery in the context of receiving benefits.

Photo: “San Francisco Bay Aerial View” by Robert Campbell is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

By Carmen Santoni, M.B.A., H.R.M., U. S. Navy Officer Veteran, SOAR Benefits Specialist in the Swords to Plowshares' Support Services for Veteran Families Unit 

On May 2–4, 2017, I had the privilege of co-facilitating the Leadership Academy Training held in Portland, Maine.  As part of the facilitation on the first day, we model an exercise called “Leaving It at the Door.”  This exercise asks participants to think about their assumptions and/or fears regarding participating in the Leadership Academy and/or implementing SOAR in their own community.  We ask them to anonymously include any personal or work-related thoughts/distractions that may take their attention away from the training.

Name: Abigail Kirkman

Title: Project Associate

Abigail Lemon

Specialty area: Transition-age youth

Location: Delmar, NY

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

Name: Pamela Heine

Title: Senior Project Associate

Pam Heine

Specialty area: Appeals

Location: Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?  3.5 years

What states do you work with?

By Megan Troy
Master’s Student of Public Policy at Northwestern University, former Maryland SOAR practitioner


Carmela Headshot

By Carmela George, Local Behavioral Health Authority for Montgomery County, Maryland Health and Human Services

By Cheryl Hunter, The Dream Center, Department of Human Services in Kern County, California

Spoiler Alert: Readers of this article will learn that research proves it is difficult to recover from behavioral health disorders if you have no money!

Having started my career being a front-line peer substance abuse and mental health worker, one of the first things I noticed was that both treatment fields were centered on goals that did not consider the major elephant in the room -- almost all of the people we were serving were living in poverty!

By Beth Argent, Benefits Specialist/Homeless Outreach at the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc. (MIRCI) in South Carolina

By: Lorraine D. Wilby, Chief Executive Officer of the TaskForce Fore Ending Homelessness, Inc.

The path from homelessness to being stably housed is not always a straight line, and it certainly hasn’t been for Matthew* and Jennifer*.

The Taskforce first met Matthew back in 2009, and over the years has had over 270 contacts with him. The TaskForce has placed Matthew in multiple shelter and transitional programs. Matthew would do well for a period, but mental health and substance use issues made it difficult for him to maintain stability.

By Glodyian Hammett, S.O.A.R. Disability Coordinator at the Maryland Department of Social Services

One of the key elements of the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) approach to completing Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits applications is the use of five “critical components.” These components of application assistance include:

I was recently overwhelmed by the experience and collective brainpower that comes together each quarter to inform, advise and guide the national SOAR initiative.   We just kicked off year two of the SOAR Expert Panel on January 13. We officially only have 6 hours set-aside each year for this incredible group to discuss ways we can improve and advance SOAR efforts around the country.  However, the panel has proven to be so much more than just another meeting on our very busy calendars.

Photo: Jen Elder and the panelists from the National Conference on Ending Homelessness' "Increasing Access to Income and Benefits: Strategies for SSI/SSDI" panel. Left to right: Pamela Fischer (SAMHSA), Lindsay Knotts (USICH), Jen Elder (SOAR TA Center), and ML Jordan, Jr. (SSA).

This post originally appeard on the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio's Updates page

By Amy Lamerson, SOAR Ohio Project Coordinator, SOAR State Lead, at the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

One of the best parts of my role as the SOAR Ohio Project Coordinator is being able to get our entire team together for our yearly meeting, which provides SOAR Ohio Specialists opportunities for professional growth and development.

My work as a SOAR Practitioner has been life-changing, not only for the people I have had the privilege to serve, but for me as well. In 2010, my first “real” job out of college was as a “SOAR Specialist” for my local Community Mental Health Center in Macomb County, a suburb just outside Detroit, Michigan. Over the course of my career, I have been able to help over 200 clients, some family members, and even a couple of acquaintances secure the benefits they so desperately needed to support themselves and their families.

Name: Amanda Starkey

Title: Project Associate

Specialty area: SOAR

Location: Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

I’ve been a contractor since January 2015, and more recently became a Project Associate in November of 2017.

What states do you work with?

Name: Dazara Ware

Title: Senior Project Associate II

Specialty area: SOAR and Criminal Justice

Location: Remote staff – Atlanta-metro area, Georgia

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

It will be 5 years in February 2016.

What states do you work with?

I am the liaison for the following 10 states:

Name: Deborah Stevens

Title: Project Assistant

Specialty area: I am responsible for coordinating the SOAR TA Center’s events, which includes the preparation of training materials and development of logistics. In addition, I review practice case applications from the SOAR Online Course, maintain the TA Center’s database, and handle all incoming requests for the SOAR TA Center.

Location: Delmar, New York

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

Name: Kristin Lupfer

Title: Project Director of the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center

Specialty area: Homelessness, mental health, employment, and mainstream benefits

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

Name: Matt Canuteson

Title: SOAR TA Center Liaison

Specialty area: Peer/Consumer-Operated Services (services delivered by individuals with lived experience with the behavioral health system)

Location: Delmar, New York

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

I have been working for the SOAR TA Center for 1 year and 7 months!

What states do you work with?

I am the liaison to five states:

Name: Suzy Sodergren

Title: Project Assistant

Specialty area: I primarily work on maintaining/updating the SOAR website and coordinating the SOAR Online Course application review process. Other than that, it’s an eclectic mix of special projects/tasks, including proofreading/editing project documents, putting together our monthly report, setting up webinars, etc. 

Location: Delmar, New York

How long have you been working for the SOAR TA Center?

By Deborah Dennis, former Project Director of the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center

If SOAR was a musical genre, it would be R & B.

By Latasha Howlett, SOAR State Coordinator for Virginia

Latasha shared these inspirational success stories in response to the question, “What about your SOAR program are you especially proud of this year?”

SOAR efforts have continued to expand across Virginia with four new communities joining the effort. We have also experienced continued expansion within our current communities. Our SOAR workers consistently go above and beyond to help their clients obtain benefits and access to services and housing.

I’m always excited to help communities re-energize and re-dedicate themselves to their SOAR process. This happened recently when my colleague, Abigail Lemon, and I held several meetings in cities across Montana. Montana was one of the first states to participate in SOAR. They saw it immediately as a way to access mainstream benefits for people experiencing homelessness. Staff changes, leadership changes, competing priorities, and time tended to move the focus away from SOAR.

In the past 11 years, the SOAR model has helped more than 36,112 people with accessing lifesaving benefits. These benefits enable them to be stably housed and better positioned to achieve other recovery-focused outcomes, such as better physical health, mental wellness, and reductions in substance abuse. One of the common features that exists in states where SOAR has been successful has been ongoing state support, consistent SOAR infrastructure (e.g., steering committees), and ongoing quality improvement.

By Josh Kivlovitz, SOAR Intern, Healthy Community Collaborative, Austin Travis County Integral Care in Austin, Texas

When I first began my internship, I had no experience working with populations experiencing homelessness, and I certainly had no idea what SOAR was. Learning about the SOAR process was such an eye-opening experience for both the challenges that adults experiencing homelessness face and the tremendous intricacies of Social Security disability.

By Libby Hollenbach of the Penn Foundation in Sellersville, Pennsylvania

Emotionally exhausted, detached, going through the motions, insensitive, irritable - not exactly what we thought we would be feeling when we first imagined a life in human services!

What seemed like a great idea - going into human services because we wanted to make the world a better place - has left us feeling tired, disappointed, frustrated, and depressed.

Does this sound familiar? It is our old enemy, BURNOUT!

It was a cold and snowy morning on December 9 when I testified before the New York State Assembly.

Guest post by Suzie Brady, SOAR Specialist, Health Community Collaborative at Austin Travis County Integral Care in Austin, Texas

The SOAR TA Center has asked Local Leads who have participated in a SOAR Leadership Academy to share their experiences. Suzie Brady from Austin, Texas attended the Charleston, South Carolina SOAR Leadership Academy in August 2016.

Through our work at the SOAR TA Center, we’ve come across some interesting (and sometimes funny) misunderstandings of SOAR terminology and process. We wanted to set the record straight, and correct some of the most common “myths” of SOAR.

By Donna Morgan, MPA, Family Safety & Homeless Services Program Manager at Bridgeway Center Inc. in Florida

In most of my writing, I mention that I am a person in recovery because I want the reader to understand that it is one of the perspectives I bring to my work at Policy Research Associates.