Habitat for Humanity is well known for how successfully they use volunteers to build homes for families in need. All you have to say is “Habitat” and most people can conjure up an image of diverse groups working together with lumber, insulation and bricks and mortar. Habitat is busily building all over the world, because the need for housing is profound and ever growing. In America alone, 95 million people have housing problems that include insurmountable mortgages, overcrowding, substandard shelter and homelessness. When families who have been living in substandard housing are given a chance to buy, and have a hand at building their own homes, aspects of their lives can take dramatic turns for the better. The benefits go far beyond just having a solid roof over their heads. One crucial improvement is the health of their children.
According to†Houston Habitat for Humanity, the number of low-income families that lack safe and affordable housing is related to the number of children that suffer from viral infections, anemia, stunted growth and asthma. All of these factors are attributed to the lack of stable housing. In addition,†10,000 children aged 4 to 9 are hospitalized for asthma attacks each year because their homes are infested with†cockroaches, a known asthma trigger. For children without stable housing, the effects of chronic health problems are†long-term and far-reaching. Housing deprivation leads to an average of†25% greater risk of disability or severe ill health across a personís lifespan.
On the other hand, according to the†Robert Wood Johnson Foundationís Commission to Build a Better America,†”Öwhen adequate housing protects individuals and families from harmful exposures and provides them with a sense of privacy, security, stability, and control, it can make important contributions to health.” Children in stable, healthy home environments are more likely to stay in school and experience improved test scores in math and reading.
Poor Children Need Healthy Homes
We already know that†poor children are disproportionately affected by environmental pollutants like those from power plants and refineries. But they are also exposed to indoor health hazards like lead, mold, mites and other insects and pests, a myriad of other allergens, radon, volatile organic compounds and asbestos. These pollutants make them sicker and more susceptible to other illnesses. Of the 26 million Americans who suffer from asthma, 7 million are children.†Asthma is the most common chronic diseases among children. And poor children and children of color suffer asthma at higher rates. Approximately 40% of diagnosed asthma in children is attributed to residential exposures. The annual economic cost of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days,†amounts to approximately $56 billion. These are costs that families on the economic edge cannot afford.
All Families Need Energy-Efficient Homes
Habitat homes are built with stability and energy efficiency in mind. Each Houston Habitat home receives Energy Star certification, demonstrating a commitment to energy efficiency and affordability. The families that will buy the homes take part in their construction. They become homeowners and thus stakeholders in their community. This is how Habitat not only improves the health of families, but of entire communities.
Where We Live Matters
Where we live is at the core of our daily lives. Our homes have the most significant impact on how we survive and how we view our place in the world. Habitat for Humanity provides the opportunity for families to improve their economic situations and live in safe homes as sanctuaries against the onslaught of health and safety threats outdoors. For these families, in a very real sense, their Habitat homes help them live better and longer.
Habitat for Humanity is doing their part to address pollution, the asthma epidemic here in Houston, the environment, and preventable childhood illnesses worldwide. Each of us must do our part too.