From the Front Lines: Omaha, Nebraska
Conceived and supported by The Kresge Foundation and launched in 2009 to address health issues that deriving from in-home environmental hazards, the Advancing Safe and Healthy Homes Initiative (ASHHI) was a national program that grew from a Kresge Health Program initiative to reduce childhood lead poisoning into a comprehensive effort to address home dangers such as asthma-triggering allergens, fire hazards, substandard insulation, and weatherization; repair problems, like broken steps and railings; and neighborhood nuisances, like abandoned buildings that invite crime. The six ASHHI community sites focused their efforts on local housing units in which they intended to reduce childhood lead poisoning, asthma-related medical events, and home safety hazards through policy making, advocacy/community organizing, and legal enforcement.
Since her parents’ passing, Yolanda Dorsey has taken over responsibility as head of the family household. She currently works full-time and raises two children of her own. With the children’s schooling, extra-curricular activities, the demands of Yolanda’s career, and the time she dedicates to her church, there is little time left to tend to the home inherited from her parents.
Deteriorating walls and floors, exposed wiring and electric outlets, broken windows, and poor indoor air quality are just a few of the overwhelming number of issues that Yolanda has had to address on her own. Consequently, a volunteer team from Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance (OKHA) and other community organizations rolled up their sleeves and came to her rescue, clearing out the basement of Yolanda’s house. Yolanda hadn’t been in her own basement in five years. Five years! But when she felt the strength and support of the team that came together to help her, Yolanda put on her gloves and joined the crew. It was an inspiring day with some amazing improvements made, but OHKA and others plan on doing more in order to return this home to the safe and healthy environment once enjoyed by the Dorsey children.
The Dream Home that Became a Nightmare
Susie Matthews bought a home three years ago, the first thing she has ever called her own; but she quickly learned that she had no idea how many problems were inside her new home. “It started falling,” said Matthews, referring to the caving ceilings above her. There are also broken windows, cracks coming down the walls and moisture seeping into the floor boards. “So, we just make do,” said Matthews, who lives in the home with her two children and two grandchildren. The kids’ asthma is getting worse by the day. “I just pray,” said Matthews.
Kara Eastman with Omaha’s Healthy Kids Alliance says Matthews’ story is not uncommon. Eighty-four thousand Omaha homes were built before 1978 when the government banned lead-based paint. “It’s fairly clear to us that we have some unaddressed health issues going on inside some of our homes,” said Eastman, “issues that are causing kids to get poisoned by lead, causing asthma and injury, and things we just need to be addressing.”
The Healthy Kids Alliance is addressing the problem. Matthews’ home is the third out of 120 the Healthy Kids Alliance will clean and fix up in the next three years. “That was a relief,” said Matthews. “That was a blessing all by itself. I’d love to put a new roof on this house, new windows, and cover up all this potentially dangerous paint.” For Matthews, anything that makes her house healthy is a gift, one that allows her family to finally feel at home. “A home, a safe place for them to come back to,” said Matthews. “And something we call our own.”
OHKA Helps Longtime Resident Get the Lead Out
Seventy-one-year-old Mr. Johnson still lives in the same house his single-parent mother bought 57 years ago. Now, some 50 years later, he has a grown son and two grandchildren. Just as he was preparing to relax back into his twilight years and enjoy the company of his grandchildren, his son informed his father that they would no longer be coming over to visit.
Mr. Johnson’s home was no longer a safe place for children, nor was it a safe place for him due to the lead hazards which permeated both the interior and exterior of the dwelling. Not only was the front porch coated in lead-based paint from floor to ceiling, lead-based paint had been used throughout the home. The bathroom walls, as well as the surface of the antique claw-foot bathtub that Mr. Johnson bathed in daily, were also covered in flaking, lead-based paint.
Ironically, the cabinet in the lead-contaminated bathroom contained prescription medications for headaches, stomach pain, and dizziness, as well as for a serious heart condition, all of which are signs, symptoms, and direct results of breathing in significant amounts of lead dust on a daily basis.
Luckily, through the Get the Lead Out! program, OHKA was able to recognize the severity of the hazards in and around Mr. Johnson’s home and provide him with the help he desperately needed, including a new roof, gutters, cabinets, sink, plumbing, and repairs to the ceiling. With the help and education provided by OHKA and their community partners, Mr. Johnson has now dedicated himself to maintaining a lead-safe and healthy home for himself and for the safety of his grandchildren, who now are able to visit him again.