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.

The plenary sessions on recovery and the criminalization of homelessness were powerful and moving. I learned so much from my colleagues and celebrated with them in their own personal recovery and the recovery of those individuals with whom they work so hard to serve.

I was fortunate enough to get to present twice with some incredible folks. I joined Bill Hudock, Senior Public Health Advisor in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, and Carl Reynolds, Employment Services Coordinator for Columbus House Inc., in a session on Supported Employment. We talked about best practices for funding and implementing supported employment programs and what to consider when assisting people who are applying for or receiving benefits who are interested in working.

Later in the day, I joined Fred Morton, Program Manager with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service Division of Statewide Service for SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Initiative: Enhancing Access to Benefits and Employment. We facilitated a discussion on the integration of SOAR and supported employment services.  In May 2016, the SAMHSA SOAR TA Center launched a learning community and pilot with 12 states (AZ, CO, CT, IL, MA, MI, MS, NV, OH, TN, UT, WI) that received the CABHI States Enhancement Grant. This year-long pilot aims to integrate SOAR and Individual Placement and Support (IPS) employment services such that individuals receiving income support services are served by one or both programs, as meets the person’s needs. Through this, we aim to reduce the gap in income support services for those individuals seeking SSI/SSDI and/or employment and to reduce homelessness by creating a system with streamlined access to income support services.

The conference was a great opportunity to connect and learn from incredible professionals. My deep gratitude to the organizers and participants. I look forward to the next reunion!