Category Archives: Housing
Facebook Makes Changes to Combat Illegal Gun Sales
Facing mounting pressure from groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Mons Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Facebook yesterday announced plans to remove offers to sell guns without background checks or across state lines. The social media site will being notifying users offering such sales of relevant laws a limit visibility of certain firearm-related posts to users ages 18 and older. Searchers for firearms on Facebook-owned Instagram will also return information on gun laws. The system will rely on users to report violating posts. "We will respond to posts that signal attempts to evade the law so we can delete them," said an AOL spokesman, according to The Wall Street Journal. Read more on violence.
Revamped SAT Designed to Increase Access to College
After only nine years using the “new” format, the College Board has announced changes to the SAT designed to focus the test more on important academic skills and increase access to college. In addition to making the essay section optional—which will put a perfect score back at 1600, from the 2400 of the past few years—the revised test will remove the penalty for incorrect answers or guessing and cut the more obscure vocabulary words. College Board President David Coleman said the changes were needed because the test had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” Coleman also announced fee waivers to low-income students who will now be able to apply to four colleges at no charge, according to The New York Times. Read more on education.
HUD Announces Funding to Provide Permanent Housing and Services to Low-Income People with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced the availability of approximately $120 million in funding for state housing agencies to provide long term project-based rental assistance to extremely low-income persons with disabilities, many of whom are transitioning out of institutional settings or are at high risk of homelessness. State housing agencies will be working with state Medicaid and Health and Human Service offices to identify, refer and conduct outreach to persons with disabilities who require long-term services and supports to live independently. Read more on housing.
NIH: 10 Percent of Driving Time Spent Distracted by Secondary Tasks
About 10 percent of an average driver’s time behind the wheel is spent engaged in something besides focusing on the road, which is especially dangerous for younger drivers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Common distractions include eating, reaching for a phone, texting, or simply taking their eyes off the road. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Virginia Tech used video technology and in-vehicle sensors to determine their findings. “Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road can be dangerous,” said study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, MPH, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute where the study was conducted. “But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven’t developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.” The study found that novice drivers were:
- Eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
- Seven to eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when reaching for a phone or other object,
- Almost four times more likely to crash or have a near miss when texting, and
- Three times more likely to crash or have a near miss when eating.
Read more on transportation.
Study: Tripling Global Tobacco Taxes Could Prevent 200M Premature Deaths
Tripling the taxes on tobacco could prevent 200 million premature deaths worldwide while dramatically cutting into the total number of smokers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Approximately 1.3 billion people smoke; tobacco currently kills about 6 million people per year, with that total expected to climb to more than 8 million by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. To support their findings, scientists from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) pointed to success in France, where raising taxes well above inflation reduced smoking by half from 1990 to 2005. "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths," said Richard Peto, the CRUK epidemiologist who led the study. "It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there's still time." Read more on tobacco.
HUD Grants to Help Families Get Access to Education, Job Training, Employment
This week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded approximately $57 million in grants as part of its Housing Choice Voucher Program, which will go toward helping residents gain access to education, job training and employment. The grants will be used to hire or retain more than one thousand service coordinators who will work to connect the families with the supportive services. “This is a modest investment that can make a world of difference for families looking to find their path to self-sufficiency,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “As America’s economy continues to recover, it’s critical that we work to make sure every American has the skills and resources they need to successfully compete for jobs in the 21st Century.” Under the program, participants sign a five-year contract requiring the head of the household to obtain employment and no longer receive welfare assistance by the end of the contract. Read more on housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently posted an interview with Teresa Bainton, director of the New York Multifamily HUB, which manages multifamily housing programs in the Northeast. Bainton’s job puts her in constant contact with families, veterans, seniors, developers, elected officials and building owners and managers. Bainton says the work, though so rewarding, is especially challenging in the Northeast, where housing prices are often higher than average costs for the rest of the United States.
>>Read the full interview.
A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.
Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:
- Buy Street Sheet or Street Sense: These biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
- Bring food: When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
- Give recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
- Volunteer your professional services: No matter what you do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns. The homeless' needs are bountiful — your time and talent won't be wasted. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
- Volunteer for follow-up programs: Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services — and are always in need of volunteers.
- Create lists of needed donations: Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
- Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.
- Read the full list of suggestions to help the homeless from justgive.org
- Read a NewPublicHealth post on the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report on hunger and homelessness.
HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.
U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.
Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.
National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.
Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.
Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.
Unemployment and poverty top the reasons why homelessness and hunger continue to grow in the U.S., according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 31st Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released yesterday. “There’s no question that the nation’s economy is on the mend, but there’s also no question that the slow pace of recovery is making it difficult and, for many, impossible, to respond to the growing needs of the hungry and the homeless,” said Tom Cochran, executive director of the Conference of Mayors during a conference call with reporters yesterday about the report.
The new report is based on surveys of city officials in the 25 cities that make up the Conference’s task force on Hunger and Homelessness, and all but one of the participating cities said requests for help had either gone up or stayed the same as the previous year.
Additional findings of the report include:
- The number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 4 percent.
- More than one in five people needing assistance did not receive it because of insufficient city and donated funds.
- Because of the increase in requests many emergency kitchens and food pantries in the 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided to individuals or families.
One positive note in this year’s report was an increase in aid provided to homeless veterans because of targeted efforts by cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. Eighty percent of the survey cities were able to find stable housing for some previously homeless veterans.
Many of the 25 survey cities addressed homelessness and hunger problems by adopting innovative programs specific to their communities to address and improve the situation. The Conference of Mayors report includes many examples both to highlight innovation and to serve as models for other cities working to improve the housing and food security conditions of their citizens:
As colder weather begins to set in, a new story on the homeless from Atlantic Cities is particularly striking: According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeless students in the United States has hit a record high number.
For the 2011 school year—the latest year for which the department has data—1,168,354 homeless children were enrolled in U.S. schools from nursery through 12th grade. Nationally, that is a 10 percent jump over the previous school year, and a whopping 72 percent increase since the recession began in 2008. More striking numbers: more than 40 states showed a rise in homelessness among kids and ten states saw the number of kids without a space to call their own rise more than 20 percent since 2008.
The lack of a safe home and limited access to health care leaves America’s homeless at especially high risk for a large number of health problems. According to a fact sheet from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, “Without homes, people are exposed to the elements, disease, violence, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, stress and addictive substances. Consequently, their rates of serious illnesses and injuries are three to six times the rates of other people. These conditions are frequently co-occurring, with a complex mix of severe physical, psychiatric, substance use and social problems.”
>>Bonus link: Continue reading even after the numbers jump out at you to learn about a ten year old girl, reported by the San Jose Mercury News, who rides a bus with her father in Santa Clara County, Calif., each night since the $70 monthly pass makes it an affordable option. The fact that the young girl is having “one of her best years so far in school,” according to her father, is all the more remarkable considering they have to get off and reboard that bus about every two hours.
CDC Report Finds Health Disparities, Inequalities Persist across the U.S. Population
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report examining the disparities in mortality and disease risk as they relate to income, education level, sex, race, ethnicity, employment status and sexual orientation. CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2013 is the second CDC report to take this wide look at the U.S. population. Among its key findings:
- The overall birth rate for teens 15-19 years old dropped 18 percent from 2007 to 2010, although it varied widely from state to state
- People who are Hispanic, are low wage earners, were born outside of the United States, have no education beyond high school, or are male are more likely to work in an occupation in which workers are more likely than average to be injured or become ill
- Binge drinking is most common for people ages 18-34, men, non-Hispanic whites and people with higher household incomes
“It is clear that more needs to be done to address the gaps and to better assist Americans disproportionately impacted by the burden of poor health,” said Chesley Richards, MD, MPH., director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Scientific Services, which produced the report. “We hope that this report will lead to interventions that will allow all Americans, particularly those most harmed by health inequalities, to live healthier and more productive lives.” Read more on health disparities.
HUD Grants to Help Transform Distressed Communities into Thriving Communities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is granting approximately $4.37 million to help nine areas transform their public or other HUD-assisted housing and distressed neighborhoods into thriving communities. Fifty- two communities had applied for the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants. The agency’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative supports locally-driven economic developments to create renewed, sustainable communities, with a focus on creating energy-efficient, mixed-income housing that has easy access to high-quality services, education programs, early learning programs, public assets and public transportation. Full details on each community can be found here. Read more on housing.
Study: Certain Health Behaviors Tied to Complication-free Pregnancies
Women who engage in certain healthy behaviors—and avoid certain unhealthy ones—are more likely to have complication-free pregnancies, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. An analysis of health data on more than 5,600 women found that eating fruit, having a healthy weight, having lower blood pressure, having a job, and stopping drug and alcohol abuse at 15-20 weeks of gestation "may increase the likelihood of normal pregnancy outcomes," according to Lucy Chappell, of the Women's Health Academic Center of King's College London. The most common pregnancy-related complications are babies who were too small for their gestational age, high blood pressure, preterm birth and preeclampsia. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Bithlo, Fla. is a town of 8,000 that is just 30 minutes outside Orlando and not much farther from the “happiest place on Earth” — but is beset by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and toxic dumps that have infiltrated the drinking water. The water is so bad that it has eroded many residents’ teeth, making it that much harder for them to find jobs. Streets filled with trash, frequent road deaths and injuries from a lack of transportation options and safe places to walk, and dropping out before 10th grade were all the norm.
In just a short time, a collection of partners and volunteers have begun to reverse some of the decades-old problems Bithlo has faced. And earlier this week, the town that had been forgotten for almost a century was the scene of a hubbub of activity as hundreds of volunteers descended on the town to continue work on “Transformation Village,” Bithlo’s future main street, which will sport a combination library/coffee shop, schools, shops and many other services, all long missing from Bithlo.
Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of 43 organizations, including 36 nonprofit health systems, that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.
>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.
One of the Stakeholder Health members is the Adventist Health System, a not-for-profit health care system that has hospitals across the country. Recently, Adventist’s flagship health care provider, Florida Hospital in Orlando, began supporting United Global Outreach (UGO), a non-profit group aimed at building up communities in need, in their four-year-long effort to transform the town of Bithlo.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tim McKinney, executive vice president of United Global Outreach, and Verbelee Neilsen-Swanson, vice president of community impact at Florida Hospital, about the partnerships and commitment that have gone into Bithlo’s transformation into a town that is looking forward to new housing stock, jobs, stores, better education and improved health outcomes for the its citizens.
Study: State Car Seat, Seatbelt Laws Leave Children Vulnerable to Injury, Death
Many state laws on car seats and seatbelts are not current with regards to modern research or are inconsistent from state to state, leaving children vulnerable to injuries or even death, according to a new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine. Researchers look at child passenger safety laws from 1978-2010 across all 50 states [Editor’s note: Go here for an interactive map]. “These laws do not keep up with the published evidence, and even when they do, there are some cases where the laws are unclear,” said Jin Yung Bae, JD, MPH, the study’s lead author, and associate research scientist at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. Approximately 250,000 children are injured and 2,000 are killed each year in the United States because of vehicle crashes, which many of these preventable, according to the study authors. The study was conducted by a team from New York University in collaboration with Temple University, and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Public Health Law Research. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also funded the study. Read more on injury prevention.
USDA Announces Grants to Improve Rural Housing
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that organizations in 45 states, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive grants to make housing repairs and improve housing conditions for limited-income rural residents. The funding is through the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program and will be provided to intermediaries such as local governments; public agencies; federally-recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit, faith-based and community organizations. The organizations distribute the grants to homeowners and owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low- and very-low-income residents. Grants may be used to make general repairs, such as installing or improving plumbing, providing or enhancing access to people with disabilities and making homes more energy efficient. Read more on housing.
CDC’s Emergency Management Program Receives Full EMAP Accreditation
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has become the first federal agency to achieve full accreditation of its emergency management program from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). “Accreditation is a serious accomplishment for CDC and the emergency management community we support,” said Ali S. Khan, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. “Preparing for and responding to emergencies of any kind—natural disasters, bioterrorism events, chemical terrorism or pandemics—is a core function of public health. Everyone at CDC has a hand, at one point in time, in emergency management and execution.” EMAP’s six steps to accreditation are subscription, self assessment, application, on-site assessment, committee review and accreditation decision. Thirty one states; the District of Columbia; and 14 U.S. cities and counties are accredited. Read more on preparedness and accreditation.