SOAR is Designed to Increase Access to SSI/SSDI Income Supports

Connecting people to housing is central to the work to end homelessness. Providers also have a responsibility to connect people experiencing homelessness to mainstream resources.

Accessing the income and health care benefits that Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides can be a critical step for individuals who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and who also have a disabling mental illness, co-occurring substance use disorder, and/or other medical issues.

What is SOAR?

The SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) program, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a national program designed to increase access to the disability income benefit programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SOAR is designed for eligible adults and children who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness, and who have a serious mental illness, medical impairment, and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder.

What Benefits Can SOAR Help With?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two programs that provide income benefits to individuals who have disabling conditions that impede their functioning and impact their ability to work:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a needs-based program for adults or children who are blind, disabled, or elderly, with low incomes.  It provides monthly financial assistance to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is a program that pays benefits to adults who are no longer able to work due to a disability, and certain members of their family if they worked long enough and recently enough to have paid Social Security taxes on their earnings.

However, circumstances can impede access to these benefits, particularly for individuals who are experiencing homelessness. For example:

  • Mail Communication: SSA communicates mainly by mail, which is a challenge when an individual does not have a permanent, reliable address.
  • Medical Records: Program participants are required to provide their medical records in order to document their disability. However, individuals who are experiencing homelessness often receive sporadic medical care from various providers, making it difficult to access their medical records.
  • Bureaucratic Barriers: It can be difficult to navigate the complex SSI/SSDI system.

Why Use SOAR? 

  • According to the 2020 AHAR Part 2, 50% of people experiencing homelessness were living with a disability. This means half of these individuals may be eligible for SSDI benefits. By leveraging the support of SOAR trained staff to help their clients apply for SSI/SSDI, homeless services case managers may have more time to focus on securing housing for their clients.
  • It typically takes 12 months to process applications for Social Security benefits. Using SOAR to assist with applying for Social Security benefits increases the rate of initial approval while decreasing the length of time it takes to process an application.
  • Over the last 17 years, the SOAR approach has assisted more than 100,000 individuals who were experiencing or at risk of homelessness to apply for Social Security benefits. Of the applications assisted using SOAR, 65 percent (representing 53,877 individuals) were approved for SSI/SSDI upon initial application since SOAR began. And an additional 8,567 individuals, whose applications were denied initially, were approved on reconsideration or appeal.

Spotlight on the Virginia SOAR Program

The Virginia SOAR Program was recognized by SAMHSA as a Top 10 State in 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018 for achieving overall approval rates above the national average.  Key performance outcomes for 2019 and 2020 include: 

  • 88% of Virginia SOAR applications were approved on the first application (vs. 10-15% of non-SOAR applications*)
  • Virginia SOAR applications were approved in an average of 107 days (vs. 12 months with non-SOAR applications*)
  • Virginia SOAR recouped over $235,000 in retroactive back-pay for Virginia communities.


SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR)

  • SOAR is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Find information about SOAR in your state: SOAR State Directory.

Social Security Administration