By: Dr. Megan Sandel, Principal Investigator, Children’s HealthWatch
As a doctor, I know that a stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health. This was recently instilled by my work at the GROW Clinic at Boston Medical Center, which takes care of kids underweight for their age. One of my patients at age 2 was the size of a 12-month old. Despite his parents’ best efforts to help him gain weight during this critical window of brain and body development, and he was not walking or talking in phrases yet.
One day in clinic, the child miraculously started to grow. I was amazed in the difference, as the child started to walk, and talk in phrases, and thrive. What became clear though was that the child had started to grow not just because of our medical care, but because the family had finally gotten an affordable apartment. Previously, the family lived in a crowded apartment and the child did not have room to crawl and walk. His parents working two jobs were not able to afford their rent, let alone nutritious food and books for their small son.
This was when I realized the prescription this family really needed for their child to grow was a stable, affordable home.
But we know that this prescription is out of reach for millions of Americans. Our research from Children’s HealthWatch and others have shown time and again that when people of all ages struggle to afford a safe home, they are at risk of poor health outcomes. Young children in families who struggle to afford rent, move frequently, or have a history of homelessness are more likely to be in fair or poor health and have developmental delays.
In addition to the individual toll on millions of vulnerable children and adults, unaffordable and unstable housing also contributes greatly to skyrocketing healthcare costs which impact everyone. In fact, we estimate that the United States will spend $111 billion in avoidable health-related costs over the next ten years because of housing instability.
We believe that this will and must change. It starts with a broad coalition from many sectors pushing together for policies which protect and expand affordable housing. Children’s HealthWatch joined the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign because our research and others have shown that when people have stable homes they can afford, they can avoid costly medical treatments, kids can thrive in school, and parents can work and climb the economic ladder.
Our belief is that health care advocates ARE housing advocates, whether they realize it or not. As a pediatrician, I see the link between housing and the health of my patients first hand. We are eager to join our voices with other leading national organizations in this movement because we know that housing issues are health issues. We cannot tackle these problems in our sector silos.
Our children need homes where they can grow, learn, and thrive. The future of our nation’s well-being depends on them and their families’ ability to access to safe, decent, and stable affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive. The time to act is now!