Housing is a key tenet of children and youth’s overall wellbeing, but many have yet to see the crucial role that housing plays in not only stability but also health outcomes for children. This connection is more important than ever to highlight in the wake of the pandemic-era Public Health Emergency (PHE) ending and House passed budget cuts — that could result in the displacement of thousands of children and youth, among other harrowing implications for nutrition and healthcare access.
Pandemic-era policies successfully addressed intersectional and systemic issues facing children and youth, and significantly improved both health and housing outcomes for low-income families. However, many of these policies, like the PHE, are set to or have already expired. To best serve the holistic needs of children, youth, and their families, stakeholders must evaluate and recognize the impact of these financial supports. Congress, state legislators, and government agencies must then reframe policies for the future and permanent enactment, coordinating multiple networks of support in both housing and healthcare.
Health and Housing are Interconnected
The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) encompass the non-medical factors that can influence health outcomes, including the economic and social policies that expand or limit access to quality and secure housing. Addressing SDOH is not only crucial to advocating for greater health and socioeconomic outcomes for children but will also provide greater opportunities to dismantle systemic barriers that lead to racial inequities.
From 2021 to 2022, 6.3 million families with children were struggling to keep up with rent. The lack of affordable housing often forces families with the lowest incomes to endure substandard accommodations, leading to health and safety risks. Children’s Defense Fund’s State of America’s Children report finds that communities of color continued to be disproportionately affected — more than half of all families with children experiencing homelessness were Black.
Housing insecurity and homelessness endanger children and youth in multiple ways:
- Provide exposure to environmental risk factors like pollution, chemicals, and diseases
- Lead to issues in developmental growth affecting cognitive function
- Cause mental and behavioral challenges leading to disruptions in education and interactions with the child welfare system
Unhoused and housing-insecure children get sick and go hungry at twice the rate of children who are housed. Also, in comparison to housed children, children experiencing homelessness face three times the rate of emotional and behavioral issues.
The quality of housing plays a crucial role in determining physical health as well. The effects of toxins, mold, improper temperatures within a home, and overcrowding can lead to serious health problems. Data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that 17% of all households in the United States has at least one of the following problems: lack of complete kitchen facilities, lack of plumbing facilities, overcrowding or severely cost-burdened occupants. Because of structural racism and historical discrimination, Black and Hispanic households experience these problems at almost double the rate as white households at 30%.
Beyond the physical and mental detriments, another immediate impact of housing insecurity on children and youth includes education interruptions, trauma, and disruption in family dynamics, leading to inconsistency in accessing educational opportunities. Consistency directly ties into children’s health because it is often referenced in educational spaces as a key tenet for positive student outcomes, including behavior and learning.
Children Need Interconnected Services
Housing security plays a vital role in children’s overall development and health outcomes. Applying an intersectional lens to policymaking is not only crucial to address the emergent needs of children in this political environment, but also provides opportunities to advocate for a greater range of issues affecting families.
Given the end of the PHE and regional, pandemic-related eviction moratoriums, and legislation passed by House Republicans in April, millions of American families and children are at risk of losing access to food, housing, and healthcare. Despite the evidence of SDOH and investing in all available avenues impacting children’s health, legislators continue to tackle housing and healthcare as standalone issues.
Children and youth can no longer afford for policy to be siloed — instead policymakers and advocates must come together to find intersectional and innovative solutions that pair housing support and healthcare coverage to uplift the whole child. Only then can we build just and caring communities that will allow children and youth the opportunities they need to live with dignity and joy.