Looming Rise in Family Homelessness will Harm Child Health

Originally published on On The Home Front.

As pediatricians, we see the child health impacts of housing instability and homelessness in our clinical practice daily. We worry about the ongoing health of our patients if these families are evicted or forced into homelessness. Based on current data, we know that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase homelessness and housing instability, which will further exacerbate health disparities, particularly for families of color.

In our new commentary published in the journal Pediatrics, we document the harmful impact of homelessness on child health that are being exacerbated as a result of COVID-19 and the current economic crisis.

We have seen families who are homeless presenting to the emergency department without medical complaints simply because of lack of housing. We’ve seen children become homeless because their parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or because they’ve been kicked out of their current housing because of concerns of infection with having too many people in the home. We have seen families forced to choose between paying rent and filling their child’s medication prescription. These families sometimes wait for days in emergency departments until they can get shelter placement.

We have seen families who are homeless presenting to the emergency department without medical complaints simply because of lack of housing.

As the pandemic drags on, we worry that increased homelessness will only increase, further straining our health systems and placing short- and long-term child and family health at risk. While an increase in homelessness at any time is concerning, the current context is particularly troubling as families experiencing housing instability and homelessness are also at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and, if they do contract the virus, they may get sicker than others. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing housing instability and homelessness among families and housing instability and homelessness is increasing risk of contracting and spreading the virus. We must break this cycle.

We need swift, creative policy solutions that provide emergency forms of rental assistance and prevent evictions in order to curb the current rise in housing instability. We call on leaders in Congress to take action to write the prescription our patient families need right now – housing. Bold solutions such as establishing a federal emergency rental assistance fund and reinstating a national eviction moratorium are needed to ensure families are able to remain in their homes and stay healthy during this pandemic.

Boston Medical Center and Children’s HealthWatch also joined more than 20 other leading healthcare organizations in urging Congress to enact vital housing resources and protections in the next coronavirus relief package. Read the August 6, 2020 letter to House and Senate leaders: https://tinyurl.com/y5kowtjf

Housing is Healthcare Important Reads:

Evictions are horrible, disruptive, traumatic events, especially for children. The @housdemocrats plan has rent and mortgage relief to keep families in their homes.

-Rep. Val Demings


Dr. Coughlin is a pediatrics resident at Boston Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Sandel is a pediatrician, Co-Director of the Grow Clinic for Children, and Co-Lead Principal Investigator for Children’s HealthWatch at Boston Medical Center, and Dr. Stewart is an Emergency Medicine physician and Lead Physician for Clinical Advocacy at Boston Children’s Hospital