Mercy Housing Lakefront: 2017-2018

Mercy Housing Lakefront is a nonprofit provider of program-enriched, affordable housing serving more than 8,000 low-income residents in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. In Chicago, Mercy Housing Lakefront provides over 1200 permanent supportive housing homes for people who have been homeless, have disabilities, or have other special needs. In addition to these challenges, many of the residents also struggle with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

In 2018 Mercy Housing Lakefront launched a Community Health Worker program to help supportive housing residents manage their chronic health conditions, increase their self-efficacy, and improve their overall health. Key to the evidence-based Community Health Worker approach is staffing by people with lived experiences like those of the people being served. While the approach is evidence-based, this pilot is innovative in basing the Community Health Workers at permanent supportive housing locations rather than basing them in a healthcare setting. With funding from the Washington Square Health Foundation, Mercy Housing Lakefront hired, trained, and continues to employee five part-time Community Health Workers, including four who are residents of Mercy Housing Lakefront’s permanent supportive housing. 

One of these Community Health Workers is Henry, who has lived at Mercy Housing Lakefront’s South Loop Apartments for over 12 years. From Henry’s perspective, “the job came along at the right time,” and provides the opportunity to give back to the supportive housing community. “I went through a period in my life where people reached out for me.” Now, Henry says, “I’m working with people that are crossing the same path I crossed.” Henry and the other Community Health Workers work with residents to complete individual assessments and provide health education, coaching, and support. 

In the first year the program has served over 100 residents of supportive housing. Preliminary evaluation results have demonstrated that the first cohort of participants to complete both a pre and a post assessment increased their health self-efficacy, i.e. their confidence in their ability to manage their own health conditions, by 18% as well as improved their overall health as measured by a 23% reduction in days per month when poor health interfered with usual activities.