Housing insecurity is a major public health crisis in Connecticut. Leaving my small town in New York state and moving to Bridgeport for college opened my eyes to the housing disparities in our region. While I don’t recall being confronted with homelessness in my hometown, living in this city for four years now I have seen many unhoused people of all ages struggling on the side of the road, in desperate need of food and shelter. In my Community and Public Health course last semester, I further learned that there is even more housing insecurity that is not always visible; for many families, homelessness can include sleeping in cars, living ‘double-upped’ with friends, or spending long periods of time in shelters.
That was the case for Gisela (pseudonym), a 57-year-old woman from Puerto Rico who was interviewed by Professor Patricia Lewis in the spring of 2020. When Gisela first came to the states, she faced homelessness and had to live double-upped with friends until she could find stable work. Gisela eventually ended up getting a job on a farm and put all that money towards an apartment so her children had a roof over their heads. She paid her rent every month but was late a few times after becoming permanently disabled on the job. She scraped together what money she could, but the housing manager threatened her with eviction. Gisela told Dr. Lewis, “I wouldn’t sleep…from the anxiety of thinking that I would have to live in the streets.”
While Gisela eventually found help from a local nonprofit and the eviction was averted, thousands of other Connecticut residents suffer the fate of being tossed on the streets. Eviction can lead to many mental and physical health problems. Individuals who are evicted from their homes are more likely to report poor health, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and psychological distress. In addition, eviction can cause food insecurity, along with not being able to afford or get to medical appointments due to the fact they have no transportation. There have even been linkages to adverse birth outcomes.
Research from Connecticut indicates that the lack of affordable housing can also cause barriers to the management of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes for many individuals. Participants in this particular study had trouble prioritizing their diabetes care, establishing and maintaining diabetes routines, and afford diabetes-related expenses, which in turn leads to implications for blood glucose levels and future complications.
During the pandemic a federal eviction ban was put in place along with federal emergency rental assistance being distributed throughout Connecticut cities. Due to these different policies the number of evictions was 67% lower in 2020 than pre-pandemic average. But in June in 2021 the eviction ban expired and since then, evictions in Connecticut have risen significantly. The only thing worse than getting evicted is having nowhere else to go but the streets. Bridgeport and Fairfield county itself is lacking homes for families that do become evicted. Out of 408 adults in Fairfield County 52 of those adults are homeless while 306 of those adults are in emergency housing. These emergency housing options are not even ideal; they can cause even more of a mental and physical strain on individuals. Eviction often leads to residential instability, moving into poor quality housing, overcrowding, and homelessness due to the fact individuals do not have the right resources.
One of Connecticut’s main issues is it is not a ‘right to shelter’ state meaning officials do not need to supply housing for individuals who are unhoused or are being evicted. Housing is a human right that every individual should be able to have! Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Presently, New York and Massachusetts are the only states that have the policy of a right to shelter. In Massachusetts if an individual is a resident of the state and has children, they cannot legally be left in the cold or on the streets. Whether it is a place in a shelter or a local hotel room, the government will make sure to provide a roof for those families that cannot afford one. With this policy in place, families in Massachusetts do not have to worry about ending up on the streets if they are evicted or otherwise fall on hard times. It is time for Connecticut to step up to the plate and pass a similar policy so people like Gisela don’t have to worry about being on the streets again. This is especially important post-pandemic as we are seeing an increase in Connecticut families and individuals becoming homeless.
Housing should not be an option; it is an absolute need. Therefore, Connecticut needs to pass the “right to shelter” policy. Too many people are suffering the dire health consequences of housing insecurity, particularly those of living on the streets. As a community and government one way to ensure everyone has a roof over their head is to make the change and become a “right to shelter” state. We are talking about individuals’ lives, rights and health. Enough with the band-aid solutions — it is time to wake up as a community!
Jenna Santoro is a senior at Sacred Heart University, majoring in Health Science with a concentration in public health. She will be attending Occupational Therapy school at Sacred Heart University in the fall of 2023.