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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019 1:00 am

Health linked to living in poverty

Report: Housing costs barrier to quality care

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Access to safe, secure and affordable housing is closely tied to health, according to a report being released today.

The 2019 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that factors including unemployment, poverty and “severe housing problems” – overcrowding, high housing costs and lack of a kitchen or plumbing – can weigh down public health.

Some of those things caused researchers from the nonprofit to rank Allen County low in health outcomes, which measures how long people live and how healthy they feel.

Poverty and the burden of paying for housing make it hard for families to afford other things such as healthy food, transportation and access to health care that can contribute to good health, according to the report.

In Allen County, 19 percent of children live in poverty – down from 21 percent in the foundation's 2018 report. About 12 percent of residents suffer severe housing problems.

“Safe, healthy housing is always a concern,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said. “People spend a lot of their income – especially low-income people – on housing. Social determinants of health really do affect outcomes.”

Overall, the county ranks 46th for health outcomes among the state's 92 counties. It was ranked 47th in 2018.

Hamilton County is No. 1 as the state's healthiest, according to the report, followed by Hendricks, Warren, Boone and Hancock counties. Fayette, Scott, Grant, Jennings and Wayne counties are Indiana's least healthy.

The foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute produce the annual report. It is used by communities and other agencies to collect support for health initiatives.

A website – countyhealthrankings.org – can be used to compare state- and county-level data across the country.

In Indiana, 12 percent of households spend more than half of their income on housing costs, researchers said. Severe housing cost burden in Indiana counties ranged from 4 percent to 20 percent of households, according to the report.

“It's unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing,” foundation President and CEO Richard Besser said in a statement. “This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy.”

Information released today is bolstered by a study released in September by the Indiana United Ways that shows more than a third of local families struggle to afford basic needs such as housing. That study showed poverty households make up 14 percent of local homes while 22 percent earn more than the federal poverty level but less than enough to cover the basic cost of living. Basic cost of living involves housing, food, child care and other factors.

David Nicole, president and CEO of the United Way of Allen County, said his agency received about 1,500 calls last year to a phone line set up for information on getting help to pay for necessities, including rent and utilities.

At least half of those were housing-related, he said.

“There are a whole lot of families in our community that are in need of housing – stable, affordable housing,” Nicole said.

mleblanc@jg.net