How Does Housing Stability Affect Family Health?

How Does Housing Stability Affect Family Health?
Sara Jacoby, Laura Tach, Terry Guerra, Douglas Wiebe, Therese Richmond
Health and Social Care in the Community
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Imagine that you are a child living in a high-poverty neighborhood. Your mother doesn’t make much and never has. She worries about this. She has had the same lingering cough ever since you can remember. Her parents lived in your neighborhood, as did their parents before that. You’re used to hearing about robberies and other crimes nearby. How do these factors affect your family’s health? This study builds on the knowledge that economic and housing distress can force people to make hard choices between basic life necessities and paying for health care by exploring the health status of families who participated in a housing-plus program in Philadelphia from 2011 to 2013. The authors focused on single-parent families living in violent neighborhoods. In the first phase of their research, they collected and analyzed data on the health status of single parents (99 percent were women) and one randomly selected child in the household, comparing them with population norms. In their second phase, the authors mapped the daily activity, conducted surveys, and interviewed participants to see how family members perceived their health, neighborhood, and the influence they both had on their daily lives. The authors found that neighborhood characteristics influence parents’ perceptions of their environment and how they let their children behave within it. The authors state that future policies and program interventions should support the health of at-risk families.

Key findings

  • Parents met or exceeded the national average for self-reported physical health but fell below the mental health average. Forty percent reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression and reported higher levels of stress resulting from worrying about financial instability and concern for their children’s well-being.
  • Report of emotional symptoms, conduct issues, problems with peers, poorer mental health, and difficulties with role performance was significantly higher in children whose parents had moderate to severe depression symptoms, compared with parents with lower levels of depression.
  • In focus groups, children described their neighborhood environment as an important source of stress in their daily lives. This was attributed to exposure to conflict in their neighborhoods and schools and witnessing crime and police activity near their homes.