(This is the third installment in a four-part series on community health issues magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic. See the first part here and second part here.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified a plethora of community health issues that often operate in the shadows.
Issues like food insecurity. Domestic violence and child abuse. Housing instability. Mental illness.
All appear to be on the rise. St. Luke’s care providers have seen it in the emergency rooms and clinics. Social service organizations have noticed, too.
“The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on and in some cases exacerbated community health issues that have been present in our communities for several years,” said Angie Gribble, St. Luke’s director of community health.
Earlier this year, St. Luke’s awarded more than 60 Community Health Improvement Fund (CHIF) grants to nonprofit organizations across the region supporting Idahoans in need.
St. Luke’s distributes CHIF grants yearly, typically aligned to the most significant health issues identified in its triannual Community Health Needs Assessments. This year, the issues mentioned earlier that have surfaced in the wake of the novel coronavirus took precedence for funding.
“We are prioritizing our engagement with organizations working to mitigate the effects of the pandemic,” said Dr. Alejandro Necochea, a hospitalist and member of the St. Luke’s Treasure Valley Community Board.
The third area of focus we will look at is homelessness, which is a key part of public health. National Public Health Week is April 5-11.
They may seem unrelated, but housing and health are inextricably linked.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, poor quality or inadequate housing contributes to myriad health problems due to substandard materials in plumbing, insulation, carpeting and more.
Many households have experienced pandemic-fueled financial peril over the past year, pushing families near the brink of homelessness and preventing them from living their heathiest lives.
“We know that safe and stable housing is foundational to optimal health outcomes and self-actualization,” Gribble said.
“When safe, stable housing is not a part of someone’s life, the associated trauma and trickle down effects such as food insecurity, difficulty finding employment, lack of health care access, inconsistent academic experience for youth, exacerbated behavioral health needs, etc., are very likely to result in decreased quality of life and poor health outcomes.”
To make the current housing landscape even more untenable, the City of Boise experienced the highest increase in rental prices in the U.S. during 2020, according to a study from Apartment List (and reported by BoiseDev).
Rental prices reportedly increased by more than 12%, the study concluded. With housing costs outpacing wages, the lack of affordable housing has resulted in a precarious situation for many Idahoans.
According to the Intermountain Fair Housing Council, about 34,000 Idahoans are at risk for eviction or homelessness, as reported by Idaho Matters.
St. Luke’s has funded several organizations devoted to housing affordability and emergency shelter, including CATCH, Jesse Tree, New Path, Boise Rescue Mission, Twin Falls County Safe House, The Salvation Army Nampa and more.
“St. Luke’s recognizes the importance of going upstream and supporting housing-related nonprofits and initiatives in our communities in ways we are best positioned to do so, often as a funder,” Gribble said.
In 2020, Jesse Tree, a Boise-based nonprofit organization, supported 380 families with rental assistance across the Treasure Valley, helping to keep the families housed—and healthier.
“That is 380 families we prevented from being evicted and becoming homeless,” said Hannah Sharp, Jesse Tree’s development manager.
St. Luke’s provided grant funding to Jesse Tree in 2020 and increased funding for 2021. The organization continues to support a growing number of families struggling to pay for housing.
Throughout the first two months of 2021, the Jesse Tree staff already served 100 families needing rental assistance and case management.
“We are already hard at work providing assistance to an average of 20 families per week in 2021, and we expect the need in the coming months to be just as great as it was last year,” Sharp said.
Daniel Mediate works in the St. Luke’s Communications department.