Addressing Pandemic Needs

When #StayHome Does Not Equal #StayHealthy

By: Marcus Smith, MBA and Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH

This is the first in a series of four blog posts that we plan to publish during Healthy Homes Month that explores how organizations can leverage housing innovations as a platform to help children to flourish, thrive, and succeed.

Residents of communities across Connecticut and the country have long faced serious health and well-being challenges due to the quality of housing they live in. Unfortunately, this problem has escalated in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the increased exposure residents face while remaining at home.

With June being National Healthy Homes Month, we wanted to call attention to the pandemic-related struggles residents face that are linked to unhealthy housing conditions, as well as offer support for changemakers who are pivoting to develop solutions to housing-related COVID-concerns.

What We Hope Our Homes Will Be

To better connect the concept of health and housing for this blog, we did a quick internet search. It is not often that Google lets us down. However, our search for inspiring quotes about the relationship between health and housing disappointed us.  We did not find provocative and motivational quotes from changemakers working at the intersection of health and housing to support children’s health, development, and well-being. Instead, we found what can best be described as inspirational wall art:

  • “Home is not a place. . . it’s a feeling.” Unknown
  • “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.” John Ed Pearce
  • “Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends and family belong, and laughter never ends.” Unknown

As parents, those quotes represent what we hope our homes will be, especially in the midst of COVID-19 and #StayHomeStayHealthy recommendations.

But, what about families that reside in homes that are none of those things? What about families that live in unsafe communities? What about families that cannot access quality, stable and affordable housing? What about families that can barely afford the rent? What about families that have to choose between rent, food or medicine? What if their homes make them sick? Or even worse, what if their homes make their children sick?  Unfortunately, this is the reality for many Americans.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Health and Housing

When we look back on this time during COVID-19, we will likely see spikes in detrimental health outcomes caused by poor quality housing conditions. The health concerns expected to rise due to the pandemic include lead poisoning, asthma attacks triggered by mold or moisture, and injuries resulting from reduced supervision as caregivers balance work and childcare duties.

The relationship between housing and health is well-documented and highlighted in this blog post. The state of Connecticut has issued temporary moratoriums on eviction and utility shutoffs to help those who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. However, these stopgap measures will eventually end, and many families will continue to feel the effects of the economic downturn. Lower-income households and people of color, who are statistically more susceptible to living in substandard and unstable housing, will be disproportionately impacted, and health disparities will continue to accelerate. The Urban Institute published an article in early May examining the hardships and difficult choices households are now forced to make regarding rent, medical care, food and other issues.

Supporting Changemakers Who Address Health and Housing

Families are now adjusting to an interim normal. Many parents and caregivers are working from home, children are participating in virtual school lessons and activities, and families are leveraging virtual platforms to maintain social connections. Organizations that support children and families are pivoting their existing strategies and developing new strategies to align with social distancing and quarantining guidelines, in an effort to keep children and families healthy and thriving.

For low- and moderate- income households, the interim normal has brought added struggles. These families are over-represented among “essential workers” who continue to be exposed to risk and who do not have the flexibility to work from home. These families also more likely to experience the digital divide, which may prevent their children from fully participating in distance learning. The Kaiser Family Foundation published an article in early May that takes an in-depth look at the impact of being an essential worker in this challenging time.

In partnership with the Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab), Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program (Healthy Homes) seeks to support organizations as they develop innovative strategies to meet the evolving and emerging housing needs of children and families during these difficult times. Learn more about the services the Lab offers here.

Together, through this blog series, Healthy Homes and the Lab will explore the relationship between health and housing, and will highlight how organizations can leverage innovative housing strategies as a platform to promote child health, development, and well-being.  We will explore novel healthy housing strategies developed in response to identified needs, emerging innovative strategies that have the potential to substantially influence access to quality, stable, and affordable housing if brought to scale and impact. We will also identify opportunity areas that still need efficacious, scalable solutions designed to help children and families thrive. It is our vision to one day ensure that families can not only #StayHome, but that they can #StayHealthy as well.

Read additional blogs in this series:
Part 2Healthy Housing: Innovation Gone Wrong
Part 3Healthy Housing: Moving the Needle from Intervention to Prevention
Part 4Innovation and Housing as a Platform for Childhood Prosperity

Are you a changemaker working at the intersection of housing and children’s health? We want to hear from you! Email us at childhoodprosperitylab@connecticutchildrens.org and tell us how you are supporting childhood prosperity.

Marcus Smith is the senior manager of Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for the Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

To sign up to receive E-Updates from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, click here.

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