By Mary Sliney
Many kids are facing educational challenges and for some, it can extend well beyond mastering reading, writing and arithmetic. Poor indoor air quality can sicken otherwise healthy children and put those with breathing issues such as asthma, or with allergies, at serious risk. Poor indoor air quality can also be a contributing factor to the development of asthma. Indoor air quality can be affected by second-hand and third-hand smoke, faulty gas appliances, dust-mites, pest droppings, misuse of pesticides, mold and moisture problems and even some cleaning chemicals.
Dust can contain another serious health hazard – particles of lead –a toxin that is especially harmful to children under age six when the brain is rapidly developing. Young children often explore their world by touching and then tasting. In older homes with deteriorating lead paint, this normal behavior exposes children to lead poisoning. Even very small amounts of lead can cause a host of significant health issues including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and hearing and speech problems.
Besides that, a home’s air conditioner that may be in poor condition can also worsen the quality of the air. In addition to providing comfort during the hot months, a properly operating air conditioner can help improve the quality of the air inside the home (IAQ). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “poor IAQ can have serious effects on a person’s health”. In order to avoid these issues, people who notice poor indoor air quality may want to contact experts from air conditioning companies to perform the required HVAC system repairs and maintenance at regular intervals.
If left unchecked, these issues can have a devastating effect on a child’s ability to learn and thrive. Beyond the educational impact, this can also lead to days lost from work by parents and care givers. Taken together, the downstream impact of indoor health challenges can have devastating consequences.
But there is good news.
Thanks to collaborative efforts underway in New Hampshire, better health literally starts at home for those served by The Way Home, a community-based nonprofit promoting access to safer housing. Healthy housing to support healthy children is at the heart of many of our program services. Led by experienced and caring staff, The Way Home combines rental housing counseling with healthy home services. Apartment inspections review potential environmental health hazards in the home. Once the risks are identified, staff from The Way Home work with local partners to resolve those issues by combining education, advocacy and technical assistance. The program helps low–income tenants obtain items to reduce asthma triggers and lead dust such as HEPA vacuums which efficiently trap dust particles. The Way Home also helps landlords and tenants work together to address these concerns, resulting in a safer environment for families and the removal of a potential barrier to educational success for kids.
The Way Home began working with the Manchester Health Department and the NH Division of Public Health on lead poisoning concerns 30 years ago with a goal of helping low income parents gain skills to protect their children from lead paint exposure.
But, since lead remediation can be costly, we worked with the City of Manchester to bring HUD Lead Hazard Reduction funding to the community in 2003. Over the years, The Way Home has also worked with stakeholders across New Hampshire to support state legislation to protect our children. The 2018 passage of SB247 (a lead remediation bill) will protect more NH kids and provide additional resources to make housing safer.
Despite a strong economy and low unemployment rates, Manchester, like many areas in our state and elsewhere, has a high number of homeless families whose incomes cannot compete for decent housing. The high cost of housing compared to incomes (the affordable housing gap) is a major cause of housing instability. This lop-sided growing economy is pushing up rental costs and increasing this gap for low wage earners.
Because children can be overlooked in this environment, The Way Home continues to promote programs to help families gain skills and resources to secure safer housing. In 2017, we were able to provide housing counseling for 610 households benefiting over 1300 individuals, including 498 children. We also helped 192 households secure apartments pre-inspected to meet health and safety standards with additional assistance provided to families with children. As a health organization, we dime it our responsibility to make people aware of what safety resources they can employ, like for instance, first aid kits (try this website to learn more), trauma kits, or traveling kits. Moreover, by providing a healthier foundation for kids and giving parents educational tools and resources, we are helping build a better foundation and brighter future for kids.
Now celebrating our 30th year of service, The Way Home’s daily mission is to assist lower income families and individuals to obtain and keep safe, affordable housing and offer supportive services to nurture the independence of those we serve and advocate for greater opportunity.
As we look ahead to our next 30 years and continued work as part of the area’s social services safety net, we offer our heartfelt thanks to our dedicated staff, committed volunteers, generous and kind donors and like-minded community partners.