Newsroom | Community Health

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Sen. Don DeWitte at the Lazarus House yearly coat drive, along with Executive Director Julie Purcell (left) and Volunteer Coordinator Megan Lopez.

Providing a Path Forward for Vulnerable Illinoisans

As Kane County, Illinois, works with community partners to improve health care access and reduce disparities, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is helping ensure one of the county’s strongest support systems can continue helping vulnerable residents.

In 2021, Kane County Health Department’s Community Health Assessment identified several priority health needs, including bolstering access to behavioral and medical care, substance misuse programs, and educational opportunities.

Lazarus House has been a crucial community pillar since opening as a homeless shelter 26 years ago. The nonprofit offers daily meals, long-term transitional living, substance misuse support, rent and utility assistance, and individual case management to connect people to local help.

“Our primary mission is to house people and give them a warm, safe place to sleep, food during the day and case management,” says Sue King, grant writer and development team lead. ”If something happened to Lazarus House, many of our people would be back on the street.”

BCBSIL awarded Lazarus House a $40,000 Blue Impact grant to help the organization continue providing support. The statewide grant program addresses social determinants of health, including economic stability and opportunity.

As housing costs and inflation climb, King says they’re seeing more people with full-time or multiple jobs unable to afford adequate housing, food, medical care and other necessities. Lazarus House serves an average of 37 people per night, but King says they’ve seen an uptick in demand for their services and increasing mental health issues.

During their 2023 fiscal year, Lazarus House cared for 147 individuals and provided more than 13,500 nights of shelter.

“When we have a house full of guests, that adds up quickly for us,” King says. “This grant pays for one individual to be here for nearly a year. Say we have a husband, wife and one child — they have a place here for months because of this grant.”

King remembers many guests who have thrived during their stay, including a 22-year-old man who first visited for emergency shelter. He moved into the center for transitional living, worked full-time and rode his bicycle 10 miles to attend community college classes.

A year later, not-for-profit Cars of Hope donated him a car and he moved into independent housing. King says he’s still working and finishing up his degree but talks with his case manager over the phone to let her know how he’s doing.

This is just one example of how Lazarus House helps their guests develop a long-term path for success, King says.

Last year, 92% of participants actively engaged in case management, which includes weekly meetings to discuss their situation and develop a path toward stability.

Additionally, 84% engaged in meaningful, necessary support for wellness needs, and 77% increased their income.

“Our Blue Impact grant program is just one way that we support nonprofit organizations working to improve health equity and access in Illinois,” said Katie Cangemi, Sr. Program Officer, Community Investment. “We’re grateful to work with Lazarus House and see the impact of their service.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association