Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to fight against infections and are a mainstay of pediatric prevention around the world. They are effective because they often fight against multiple types of infections, they have long lasting effects and they benefit both the individual receiving them as well as the broader society by preventing the spread of disease.
But there is also a nontraditional type of vaccine: Housing. The “Housing Vaccine” as described by Boston’s Dr. Megan Sandel shares similar properties with traditional childhood vaccines.
Safe and affordable housing protects children in multiple ways by decreasing exposure to street violence, lead exposure, injuries and mold. It also protects in indirect ways. Parents of families that are homeless or who don’t feel secure with their housing situation are much more likely to be depressed and anxious. Thus, they are less likely to be involved in their children’s schooling or fully present for parenting.
Parents of families who suffer from housing insecurity may also have to work a variety of low-income jobs and be less available for their children, especially if they struggle with transportation. In short, housing insecurity and homelessness are associated with risks in the home and risks to the parent-child bond which are critically important for young children and adolescents and their health.
The housing vaccine is also long lasting. The Children’s Health Watch, a group of several emergency departments from around the country, assessed many pregnant women or women with young families and found that secure and stable housing was associated with positive child development for several years.
Finally, housing-first initiatives benefit both the individual children and families receiving stable housing but also benefit society at large. Children born into families that are in stable housing are more emotionally and behaviorally capable at entrance to kindergarten and less likely to require special education or shelter interventions. The cost of eviction and homelessness to the City of Columbus, alone, is $13M to $30M per year due to lost taxes and shelter.
Although we have much to learn, the housing vaccine protects children in multiple ways for long periods and benefits both those children and society. It is one of the important reasons that Nationwide Children’s Hospital partners with Community Development for All People, United Way of Central Ohio, the Mayor’s Office of Development, and others, to increase the availability of homes and rental properties for South Side families. Click here to learn more about our Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families program.
Dr. Kelleher is a pediatrician whose research interests focus on accessibility, effectiveness and quality of health care services for children and their families, especially those affected by mental disorders, substance abuse or violence. He has a longstanding interest in formal outcomes research for mental health and substance abuse services.
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