Innovating at the Intersection of Health and Housing

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More than 18,000 students attending Chicago Public Schools are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

67% of people experiencing homelessness are also living with a mental illness, compared to 4% of the total population.

About two-thirds of individuals coming out of the justice system are likely to recidivate within three years.

Taken together, these statistics help illustrate how the most profound challenges affecting people’s quality of life are bound up with their access to stable, affordable housing.

These complex interrelationships inspired the Trust’s Housing+ grant program. This innovative funding supports partnerships that connect the benefits of safe and permanent housing to other improvements in people’s lives: education, health and criminal justice involvement.

They also inspired a thoughtful, spirited conversation among community leaders and a select group of donors who are investing in the future of housing across the region.

The change makers around the table included:

Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health

“Although the United States spends, by far and away, the most on healthcare and treatment, we spend the least on social services—and our life expectancy is lower than most other developed countries. We’re not doing something right in the United States.”

“As a public health system, we’re focusing on housing, education, transportation, economic development, because we know that if we do improve those things in the communities, among the populations who have the greatest need, we will improve overall health overall. We can’t really treat our way out of the problems that we’ve created in the United States, and in Chicago as well.”

“When Chicago’s Five-Year Housing Plan was re-upped last year, we were at the table with the Planning Department, with the housing groups, to really come together to make sure that as they developed the plan, housing factors were considered. It was really a wonderful opportunity for us to be involved in that kind of policy.”


Joanna Trotter, senior program officer at the Trust

“We had already been funding in housing. Housing+ was our effort to say, ‘We recognize these intersections. We also recognize that organizations who are doing affordable housing are dealing with a complex set of resident needs and they want to partner. At the same time, there’s less funding available. How do we support partnerships between organizations who may not have yet have the resources or capacity currently to do that?’”

“We really wanted to learn alongside everyone. We are funding policy advocacy and policy changes, funding interventions that are starting to evaluate if this is a health savings for managed care organizations. We are funding these kind of new financial interventions. There is a lot of interest in all of these different areas. That may change over time for us at the Trust, but we really wanted to contribute to a body of work that talked about these different levels.”

A group of panelists seated at a long conference table
The Donor Dialogues series—like the October event shown here addressing hunger and food insecurity—is a solutions-focused platform for donors, civic leaders and experts to connect. Trust program officer Anna Lee says, “I think that conversations like this can help, because they spark ideas about how we can do things differently.”


Gladys Aguirre MSN, RN, nurse manager of the Community Education Department, Women’s Program and Volunteer Program, Amita Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, Amita Health

“When we did our first community assessment, the community thinking that housing was really an issue for their health was very low.In the last two community assessments we have done, we’ve seen a big, big change. The hospitals are looking at housing because we can see now that the people of the community are understanding that housing has to do with everything else in their lives. The hospitals are, I think, looking at it.”

“With a grant from the Trust, we did a project on asthma education and housing. We would go teach the family members about asthma in their home. Once we go into their home, we can see what really is the problem: leaky faucets, mold on the walls and things like that. We also would supply them with pillow covers, mattress covers, covered garbage cans, cleaning supplies and things like that. I do everything else in health, but I didn’t realize how housing really affects asthma. Now we have a waiting list of people who are interested.”


Betsy Benito, director of the Illinois Program at the Corporation for Supportive Housing

“The Flexible Housing Pool for Chicago and Cook County was supported through the funding of the Trust and Housing+, along with some other funders. It is intended to pay for rental assistance and supportive housing tenancy services that are really essential for people that have service needs. It helps them stay connected to the care coordination and clinical services that healthcare will provide.”

“It’s a really exciting initiative. We appreciate the leadership at the City level and at the County level in particular. We need more. We need more assistance that can pay for housing. We don’t want to see people cycling over and over. We want to see our healthcare and any supportive services be effective.”

“Our vision would be that in the future, we can use housing as a preventative tool. Right now, we’re still bailing ourselves out.”

A woman stands in a kitchen taking groceries out of a cardboard box
Among the organizations participating was Claretian Associates, which was awarded a Housing+Health grant in 2018 for a partnership with Chicago Family Health Center to co-locate health and housing programs to serve low-income families and seniors in South Chicago.


Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian Associates

“Over the last decade, we have been looking at how our can housing affect the health of our residents. We’re doing affordable housing, but it needs to be layered with other services. It’s not just the bricks and sticks. It’s also, ‘Where do I go to work out? Why may I not be working out? Is it unsafe in my neighborhood? What about my finances?’”

“We also work at the intersection of economic wealth. If you’re having to go far for a job, that means that you’re leaving early. Your kids are unsupervised. They’re having to get to school and back; they’re hours by themselves. What’s happening with them and their mental health? There’s lots of genres that we work on that would be considered health. For us, it’s how we layer those things. It’s how we bring all of those things together and work on them consecutively.”


Anna Lee, program officer at the Trust

“In all of our work, we’ve thought about these intersections and how we can be more effective if we start disrupting the silos.”

“Our counterparts at the Cook County Health Systems will often say that housing is health. If you are housed, you will be healthier. If you look at our portfolios, I would say the same thing. If you are housed, you will have better education outcomes. The same with the justice system: if you help people who are re-entering our communities to help stable housing, we’ll see better outcomes and also it will be cheaper. There will be economic benefits, rather than to have a person recidivate.”

“I think that conversations like this can help, because they spark ideas about how we can do things differently.”


Donor Dialogues explore pressing issues in our region and our world, forming learning communities by connecting practitioners and experts with donors who have the passion and leadership to make systemic change. Please contact your relationship manager for more information about upcoming Donor Dialogues. Or, if you are interested in becoming a donor with The Chicago Community Trust, contact Tim Bresnahan for information about the giving solutions we offer.