SSI and SSDI provide critical financial support to low-income individuals with disabilities. Beneficiaries who are homeless can use the cash assistance from SSI/SSDI to access housing as well as medical and mental health services through Medicaid. To be eligible for benefits from either program, individuals must provide enough documentation to allow the state DDS to verify a medical and functional disability.
The precariousness of their living situations, along with the nature of their disabilities, makes it difficult for individuals who are homeless to complete the SSI/SSDI application process. Many adults who are homeless have no consistent source of medical care and lack trusting relationships with providers who can document their disability for the SSI/SSDI application (OToole et al. 2002). Mental health and substance abuse disorders may limit physical and cognitive functioning and impair a persons ability to make decisions and keep appointments (Macnee and Forrest 1997), both of which are necessary to complete the SSI/SSDI application process. The lack of a stable address and fragile social support networks can prevent medical providers and SSA or DDS staff from contacting applicants to obtain missing information or otherwise follow up on an application. Indeed, it is estimated that only 15 percent of new SSI applications submitted by homeless individuals nationwide are initially approved, compared with nearly 30 percent of applications submitted by others (Rosen et. al. 2001; Social Security Advisory Board 2006).