Poor housing endangers health

IMG_1197_1We had to laugh when we saw this offering on a mountain roadway in the Klamath Mountains in Del Norte County in Northern California. I was with Melissa Darnell, a community organizer working with a major privately-funded initiative to vastly improve the health of county residents over a decade.

This one is a serious fixer-upper that’s probably beyond a cost-effective restoration, but it’s emblematic. A couple of days earlier we’d visited a woman in another Del Norte community with major decay in the doublewide mobile home where she and her family lived. Holes in the floor were covered with plywood, and the home had other obvious signs of major damage.

Many live in mobile homes in the region. For that reason and others, unsafe, unhealthy housing is a significant issue. Annual rainfall is around 75 inches, and mold and fungi – both asthma triggers – grow readily in leaky homes.

In Del Norte County:

  • 26.8% of low-income residents report mold in the home1
  • 45% of children reported suffering an asthma attack2
  • 35.7% of adults reported suffering an asthma attack3

Another challenge in the region is there’s no homeless shelter for displaced individuals or families in this cold, wet climate, in part because of strong community resistance.

The initiative that Darnell is working for is on a quest to raise the health of Del Norte residents, especially children, by improving myriad social and living conditions. And housing is among them.

Among the solutions:

  • Creating a housing collaboration among public, private and nonprofit entities to offer financial literacy, credit counseling, pooling of resources and the assessment of policies that hinder home ownership.
  • Strengthening or developing offerings for home health assessments.
  • Promoting understanding about homelessness and alleviating fears about sheltering homeless families, with the aim of establishing a temporary shelter during inclement weather.

TAKEAWAY: Costly and common illnesses such as asthma are strongly linked to substandard housing.

  1. California Center for Rural Policy; “Rural Poverty and its Health Impacts: A Look at Poverty in the Redwood Coast Region.” Rural Health Information Survey, 2006
  2. California Department of Public Health; “Asthma in Children and Adolescents in California Counties, 2003”
  3. California Department of Public Health; “Asthma in Adults in California Counties, 2003”

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