Each year Heading Home participates in Lobby Day, a day when homeless service providers engage their representatives about systemic needs for addressing homelessness statewide. On January 28, a few of our staff members and friends from New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness (NMCEH) traveled to Santa Fe for 2020 Lobby Day to advocate for people experiencing homelessness. This is how we put our hopes and dreams into real action.

Heading Home has been actively engaged in advocacy to pass House Bill 98 which would allocate $750,000 to expand the SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery) program statewide. SOAR is a program designed to increase access to Social Security 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. Typically, eligible individuals must apply 2-3 times before being approved for benefits through a process that may take over a year. By working with a SOAR representative, the average wait time to be approved is 90 days.

In the current model, clients must be connected to a program, such as ABQ StreetConnect, in order to work with a SOAR representative. Some clients who cannot connect with a SOAR representative end up hiring lawyers, which comes at a cost. Anywhere in New Mexico, an individual in need of SOAR services could be assigned to their own local SOAR rep. If approved, this funding would keep this service free to the client.

House Bill 98 was the discussion topic at a recent Health and Human Services presentation hearing. Members of NMCEH, Heading Home CEO Dennis Plummer and Heading Home’s SOAR representative Teddi Rivera traveled to Santa Fe to advocate for the bill’s passage. House Bill 98 went through a second committee hearing and we were pleased to learn that the House has recommended that it be included in the House budget. Click here to access information about House Bill 98 on the New Mexico Legislature website.

We’re grateful to the students of Albuquerque Academy who provided invaluable support in this advocacy effort. Students hand-wrote letters in support of this legislation for us to present to our state legislators and created signs to show support at Lobby Day 2020. Thank you for advocating for this important issue!