Housing instability is linked to low birth weight, preterm birth and infant mortality. A new initiative from the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI aims to reduce infant deaths by connecting pregnant women and new mothers with better housing.
The Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will bring the Healthy Beginnings at Home project to Marion County. The project helps women navigate housing services and provides 24 months of tapered rental assistance and housing case management services to housing-insecure women in Marion County who are pregnant or recently had a child.
Healthy Beginnings at Home started as a pilot program in Ohio for pregnant women experiencing housing instability. During the pilot, participants had a reduced need for emergency medical and shelter services, and more healthy, full-term babies were born. Participants’ infants also spent less time in intensive care, and there were no deaths.
Indiana ranks in the top ten states with the highest infant mortality rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jack Turman Jr., a professor in the Fairbanks School of Public Health and director of the Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative, said the infant mortality rate is an indicator of a society’s health.
“So doing whatever we can to reduce infant mortality is perceived as a way that we are working to advance the health and social well-being of our whole community,” Turman said.
Turman said housing insecurity leads to poor infant health outcomes in two ways.
“Housing insecurity or instability leads to a very dangerous type of toxic stress that biologically puts the woman and the baby at risk,” Turman said.
And if a mother is living in a home with unsuitable conditions, such as mold, lead or vermin, that presents a physical risk to the family’s health.
The program will also provide legal intervention services, making sure participants know their housing rights and how to advocate for themselves.
“We learned from women about all their struggles with eviction and understanding their rights,” Turman said.
IU will partner with health care provider CareSource to evaluate the program's impact on birth outcomes and health care costs. CareSource Foundation pledged an additional $250,000 to support the program, and Indianapolis nonprofit Merchants Affordable Housing Corp. will provide in-kind support and navigation services.
The Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative is funded through a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The initiative has set a goal to serve at least 100 families over the grant period.