In 2011 Detroit’s Kresge Foundation invited the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance (OHKA) to apply for a grant under their Advancing Safe and Healthy Homes Initiative along with 35 other groups from around the nation. On July 1, 2012, OHKA was selected as one of six grantees to receive the award of $750,000. The grant will fund the alliance’s work around creating green, lead-safe and healthy homes for children and families in Omaha, Neb. The Kresge Foundation is a $3 billion private, national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations. Their new Advancing Safe and Healthy Housing Initiative is intended to make homes safe and healthy by addressing asthma triggers, such as dust or pests, lead poisoning hazards, like deteriorating lead-based paint in older homes and safety issues from a lack of carbon monoxide hazards to radon.
The grant is also being used to advance policy initiatives and legal enforcement to help protect Omaha’s most vulnerable populations in their homes. One of the key components of the grant is to fund a full-time city code inspector who focuses on healthy homes. Funding will also provide a full-time outreach worker who will conduct healthy home assessments for children with asthma or lower levels of lead poisoning. Funding from the grant will also advance the alliance’s work around combining healthy housing programs with energy efficiency work to help maximize federal, state and local resources.
Recently the Centers for Disease Control lowered the reference value from 10 to 5 (micrograms per deciliter) for the level at which a child is considered poisoned by lead. Nationally the change increases the number of children above the reference value from less than 100,000 to an estimated 450,000. In Douglas County, Neb., numbers of lead-poisoned children have been in the 200 range each year. However, more than 500 children each year have blood-lead levels over 5. At the same time as this standard has been changed, the CDC budget has also been slashed, making it very difficult for government agencies to provide help for children with lower lead levels.
Lead poisoning is still the number one environmental hazard to children, and children who are poisoned by lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school.
Many of the other housing conditions being addressed by the Kresge dollars are critical in Nebraska. Nebraska is the number one state in the nation for deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning, many areas of the state have high radon levels (radon being the second leading cause of lung cancer) and issues like bed bugs and mold are prevalent throughout the state.
The alliance also works with several local, state and national partners to create innovative and effective programs to educate the community and address substandard housing. They have created a children’s book on lead poisoning, have received grants to test homes for lead and radon and are working with foster care agencies and clinics to conduct healthy home assessments for families in eastern Omaha.