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Housing Plays a Critical Role in Health

Last updated: September 20, 2023

Housing has a huge influence on health. If you don’t have a place to put your head down at night, it impacts every other aspect of health in your life.

Paula Morgen, Director of Community Health Improvement, ThedaCare

Health is a complicated picture made up of many components. The portrait of health includes many facets beyond the care you can receive in a hospital or a clinic.

Access to safe, stable, affordable housing is one key piece of that picture of health. For the next phase of our lifeinspired movement, ThedaCare is focusing on helping improve access to housing. In Part 1 of a three-part series of blogs, we’ll look at how housing affects health.   

This fall, ThedaCare is leading a series of “Inspired to Fight for Health Housing” events. In September and October, teams of ThedaCare employees and community members will volunteer for several projects. These include a Habitat for Humanity Rock the Block event in Neenah-Menasha; improvements to a sober living house in Waupaca; Habitat for Humanity home builds in Gresham and Wautoma; and construction of an outdoor space for residents of Mission of Hope House in New London.

Importance of Housing

“Housing has a huge influence on health,” says Paula Morgen, Director of Community Health Improvement for ThedaCare. “If you don’t have a place to put your head down at night, it impacts every other aspect of health in your life.”

Every three years, ThedaCare conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment. Through the process, teams look at data and talk to community members.

“The biggest social need that we heard from our communities was housing,” Morgen says. “In every single market, housing was a top issue and social need.”

Housing issues fall into four categories: quality; affordability; location — including transportation and distance to grocery stores, schools, work, and parks; and community — a feeling of safety and belonging.

For a couple of years, ThedaCare has been screening subsets of patients for social needs such as food insecurity, transportation, financial strain, and housing, Morgen says. About 17% of these patients cited housing as a concern. That means housing is an issue for around one in six patients.

From a health care perspective, unhoused members of the community use a lot of health care resources — usually the expensive ones like emergency department visits, Morgen says. If someone can obtain safe, stable housing, it can reduce their ED visits and increase primary care visits by 18%. Accessing care at the right place and time helps save money for health care organizations and individuals alike.

“What we really want to do is focus upstream to create the conditions for health and well-being in the first place that allow more people to thrive,” Morgen says. “We want to try to invest more in needs like housing, so there are fewer issues that we have to try to fix down the road.”

‘It Takes a Village’

Meeting the housing need is no easy task. To make progress, organizations, communities, and individuals must work together.

For its part, ThedaCare partners with several organizations. Efforts include supporting United Way Fox Cities, which works on many housing initiatives throughout the communities it serves. ThedaCare also supports sober living housing in the Fox Cities, Shawano, Waupaca, and Wautoma.

The “Inspired to Fight for Healthy Housing” events speak to the need for partnerships as well. One piece of that is a collaboration with the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity. In September, dozens of ThedaCare team members are volunteering for a Rock the Block event taking place on Doty Island in Neenah-Menasha.

Habitat for Humanity serves people who can’t afford a home. The organization helps individuals get ready for home ownership, builds their home, and helps them prepare to pay a 0% interest mortgage. Habitat also assists people who already have a residence but struggle to keep their home in good repair, says Amy McGowan, Director of Development for the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity Rock the Block events help uplift an entire neighborhood, McGowan says. On Doty Island, around 300 volunteers will complete work on 30-plus homes. Home projects can include repairs, roof and siding replacement, and lead abatement (done by professionals only).

Rock the Block Doty Island also includes 10 community projects. Teams will complete work at churches, parks, community spaces, and the Neenah-Menasha YMCA.

Impactful Outcomes

“We survey homeowners after Rock the Block, and we find that they feel more part of their neighborhood,” McGowan says. “They’re proud to live there. They’re proud of the work that they accomplished alongside their neighbors.”

McGowan says her organization also heard from a local police chief about positive impacts correlated to a past Rock the Block event. Following improvement efforts in a city neighborhood, the police department saw decreases in calls for problems such as vandalism and domestic violence. Conversely, it saw increases in calls from neighbors watching out for one another.

“We thought that was a wonderful success because that’s a key piece to Rock the Block: neighbors helping each other or getting to know their neighbors,” McGowan says.

Partnerships are vital to making Rock the Block events a success. In addition to ThedaCare and other business sponsors, the Neenah and Menasha police departments and utilities will lend a hand.

It’s through joint efforts that we’ll see progress, Morgen says. “We’re all in this life together,” she says. “The more we can support each other, the more it brings that sense of belonging, connection, ownership of our community, pride in our community, and pride in ThedaCare team members for being involved. It’s a win-win all around.”

Stay connected to lifeinspired. Join the movement to get a free copy of the lifeinspired Guide.

Tags: Affordable housing Habitat for Humanity sober living social determinants of health United Way

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