“Today continuing poverty and distress are a deeper and more important cause of international tensions, of the conditions that can produce war, than previously.”– Lester B. Pearson
Introduction to Poverty
Poverty is commonly defined as the significant lack of money. Commonly, it can be categorized as either absolute or relative. Absolute poverty is categorized by severe deprivation of human needs such as food, safe water, education, health, and shelter. Factors that contribute to absolute poverty include both low income in addition to access. However, relative poverty is defined according to where we live. The United States measures poverty in terms of this scale and this has been more reflective of happiness!
For more information about the differences between these types of poverty go here
Our Study’s Focus
The aim of our group is to form an understanding of physical and mental health in the framework of the Homewood-Brushton community. Our perspective is based along the axis of poverty. Specifically, we will be investigating mental health, access to healthcare, nutrition and disease, and health behavior. Our data has been drawn from statistics provided by Allegheny County and through qualitative observation.
Health Behavior and Rationality
Poverty in the United States is a largely a taboo subject, and the ‘blame the victim’ mentality is the easiest temporary escape from the issue. Alongside psychologists, behavioral economists are beginning to lead the field of poverty studies. Behavioral economists use economics to observe both individual human interactions, as well as social patterns. One economic assumption never challenged is that the field itself is the study of scarcity. For this reason, behavioral economics is an excellent viewpoint from which to study the choices people make when faced with a lack in money within a system that was not made to benefit them.
People suffering from poverty are often viewed as “irrational,” which places the blame for their condition upon individual interactions rather than systematic factors.
While low-income people are constantly blamed for their “bad” health behavior, wealth can in fact put blinders on individuals’ health decisions. Professionals who devote their lives to closing the gap in health equity often remind us that, regardless of our level of official health education, we all make decisions every day that we know to be detrimental to our own health – whether it be taking the elevator or skipping the salad bar. Irrationality is not unique to “the poor.” In fact, one of the most widely discussed issues today is the rejection of vaccines and preventative medicine, replacing it with a preference for “holistic” healthcare. Y. Tony Yang et al discovered that vaccine exemptions for personal belief reasons in California doubled between 2007 and 2013, with those types of exemptions being more common in wealthy, white areas (n.p.). These can lead to higher rates of preventable diseases in both children and adults. In addition, wealth may give people a false sense of health smarts, leading them to follow “buzzwords” they think imply health. A study by Dr. Temple Northup found that simply adding buzzwords such as “organic” and “antioxidant” to food labels increased consumer desire to purchase the good, even when there is no health value(n.p.).
The research of rationality in health behavior concluded that the stigma of “the poor” must be eliminated, and instead Americans must realize that each individual has unique circumstances that lead them to the decisions they make every day. Health programs must be tailored towards mutual understanding, not judgement.
Currently Homewood’s population is approximately 98.3% African American. This puts them at a disproportional risk for heart disease. For example, over 21% die of heart disease by age 65!
The Deadly Effects of the Urban Food Desert in Developing Heart Disease
One of the greatest contributions to heart disease is obesity. Homewood’s residents unfortunately lack access to a fully-stocked grocery store. In a study of 1,372 households, it was found that in order to obtain healthful foods, Homewood’s residents were required to invest in public transport reach a store. Another finding within the study was that those who shopped in discount stores had a greater weight. The reason for this may be attributed to the store’s layout. For example, a low price store was more likely to display junk food whereas a higher priced store was more likely to display fruits and vegetables.
The Prevalence of Diabetes in Homewood Brushton
Type 2 Diabetes affects over 18 million individuals. However, another 16 million may be classified as pre-diabetic. Amongst these individuals, death rates from Type II Diabetes are disproportionally higher for those of African American descent.
Additionally, for further information in relation to heart disease, please visit this video!
Access to Healthcare in Homewood-Brushton
A thriving community is not only one which is economically stable, but provides adequate healthcare to its citizens. In impoverished areas such as Homewood-Brushton, economic factors rule out adequate acute care in a local proximity.
While there are several private institutions that provide medical services to the citizens of Homewood-Brushton, only one clinic provides primary care at a reduced rate to aid those who cannot afford the typical rates attached to the services; this is the Alma Illery Medical Center, located in Homewood South.
Exploring Mental Health in Poverty
When you think about poverty, what comes to mind? Scarcity, dearth, lack of material possessions? One thing that may not immediately come to mind is mental health care. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. These things can be difficult for those who have access to healthcare, but imagine those dealing with the stress of living in poverty and little to no access to healthcare.
Those living in poverty deal with high levels of stress on a daily basis. Trying to pay for rent, find care for children, or put food on the table is not an uncommon struggle for those in poverty. These elevated stress levels lead to poorer mental health. In 2010, 27% of Allegheny County adults said they were stressed or worried about their ability to pay their rent or mortgage during the past 12 months. A significantly higher proportion of women reported being stressed or worried than men. Predictably, stress and worry about ability to pay rent or mortgage is related to household income. Black adults were significantly more likely to report stress or worry about ability to pay their rent or mortgage.
Mental Health in Homewood-Brushton
Mental health services are such an important facet of healthcare itself. There are 16 crises management facilities and 514 outpatient facilities in Allegheny County. About 38 per 100,000 Allegheny County residents utilize County-funded mental health services. Utilization rates of these facilities vary by district.
As of now, the primary place for uninsured persons in Homewood-Brushton to go for mental health care is the Alma Illery Medical Center – Primary Care Health Services, Inc. Most insurance plans are accepted here and there is a sliding fee program based on household income and family size. This medical center does provide a wide variety of health care including mental health services. Another place a resident of Homewood-Brushton can receive mental health counseling is at the YMCA. However, it seems that the main treatment they provide are substance abuse programs.
This video provides an explanation of why the improvement of the overall mental health in a community can help stop the cycle of poverty and disability
- We believe the community would benefit with the presence of an affordable grocery store. It would also beneficial if the stores were structured with healthy foods in the front and unhealthful foods in the back.
- Another way to increase access to healthy foods is through Produce to People. The aim of this organization is to provide families supported by the government access to over 24 pounds of fresh produce.
- Promoting positive health through educational centers such as through the YMCA, CCAC Homewood, and Westinghouse Academy would provide those of all ages with healthful information and facilities to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease.
- With the large amount of vacant space, it may be beneficial to create green spaces for recreation and outdoor play. Another way to increase exercise within the community is to build an open gym.
- Forming an open dialogue pertaining to mental health. This will allow residents, especially youth to talk with councilors and others who may have similar issues. This may enhance feelings of security.
- Another way to improve the way mental health is addressed is to improve current mental health care programs.
Overall Health Changes that we believe would benefit Homewood’s community
- Research about the reasons behind poverty and healthcare be widely funded to dispel dangerous stereotypes and stigma.
- Focus on nation and statewide fair healthcare policies.
City of Pittsburgh:
- Invest in healthy grocery stores in the region while supporting local food businesses to remain open.
- Connect the many nonprofits of Homewood to the resources offered by local universities to enable sustainable projects and collaborations.
- Encourage health programs that are more realistic for busy and stressful lives. Local health clinics can place participants of weight loss or tobacco into groups that span socioeconomic boundaries in order to decrease stigma and encourage teamwork.
- The many successful nonprofits of Homewood should continue working to create a united front, potentially in the form of a council or summit to address issues that all nonprofits can agree upon
Now it’s your turn to provide your community with feedback about ways healthcare may be improved in Homewood!
Finally here is a link listing healthcare services offered throughout Pittsburgh.