This month, the organization released another terrific report highlighting how homelessness interacts with the criminal justice system. Adding Insult to Injury: The Criminalization of Homelessness and Its Effects on Youth looks at how unaccompanied homeless youth face additional burdens due to laws that criminalize their status. For example, homeless youth are often penalized for sleeping in public places. Entering the criminal justice system at a young age can serve as a severe barrier as these youth look to lift themselves out of homelessness. A criminal record can impact their ability to find housing, secure employment, pursue education, and access some safety net resources.
The report, which is the result of interviews with and testimonials from homeless youth across the state, points out that homeless youth lack the resources needed to avoid further violating some “quality of life” laws.
I’d like to take a minute to remember Julian Bond, who died yesterday at 75 after a life dedicated to social justice and civic action. A founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Bond was a legend of the Civil Rights Movement, a successful politician, a leader of the NAACP, and a pioneering health advocate who helped raise awareness of sickle cell anemia’s impact on the African American community.
On a personal level, I can say that I don’t think I’d be here working for CPEHN today were it not for what I learned from Professor Bond. While I was at the University of Virginia, I had the privilege of taking his course, the History of the Civil Rights Movement. The class was less a traditional lecture and more an oral history. He casually told anecdotes about his time in the movement. While his stories included names that have long been immortalized in history books, he showed the same reverence to the thousands of people who risked everything to stand up to injustice. As he said recently in Wisconsin:
“Most of those who made the movement were not famous, they were the faceless. They were the nameless, the marchers with tired feet, the protesters beat back with fire hoses and billy clubs, and the unknown women and men who risked job and home and life.“
Following our belief that health is about way more than just what happens in a doctor’s office, at CPEHN we have been working a lot in recent years to address the social and environmental determinants that impact our health. One of the main factors we have focused on is transportation. From pedestrian injuries to unequal access to public transit, transportation inequities often coincide with health disparities, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color. One of our successes has been the passage of our sponsored bill AB 441 in 2012, which included health and equity criteria in the state’s transportation planning guidance.
The comprehensive report analyzes the status of women and girls in a number of arenas, including education, employment, poverty, business leadership, political representation, and mental and physical health.
The report finds that California is becoming increasingly diverse, with communities of color now representing 61% of the state’s female population, up from 56% in 2005. Latinas are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group. And that trend is likely to continue, with nearly a third of Latinas (32%) under the age of 18, compared to just 16% of Whites.
The main takeaway from the report is that women, especially women of color, are still not on equal footing as men, particularly in terms of socioeconomic status:
In order to fully address the root causes of the health inequities we see in our state, it is important to remember that what influences our health goes far beyond what happens in a doctor’s office. Many social and environmental factors contribute to our health and wellbeing. Among these, community planning and transportation design have some of the biggest impacts.
Today in Oakland, Prevention Institute hosted From Streetscapes to Thriving Communities, an event focused on how we can design our communities to better promote health. In particular, the event focused on creating safe streets:
Streets are in many ways at the heart of our communities, and street design can shape health out-comes in powerful ways – preventing traffic injuries and violence, promoting community cohesion and mental health, supporting physical activity, and more. But street design isn’t enough. Residents need safe places to play, great destinations, and a thriving local economy.
Two prominent experts, Dinesh Mohan and Dick Jackson, engaged in a terrific discussion on creating healthier streets. Here are some highlights from Twitter:
During Black History Month, we’re reminded that equality for the African American community includes health equity. A half century ago the civil rights movement succeeded in focusing the nation’s attention on the injustices faced by African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities and a broad consensus emerged – backed by a raft of federal legislation – in support of the idea that a person’s fate in life should not be predetermined by the color of their skin.
Although there has been incredible progress on a variety of fronts in the ensuing years, there remain significant disparities between the races in a number of critical areas, one of the most prominent being health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans and other people of color live shorter and less healthy lives than whites, and suffer from significantly and often dramatically elevated rates of, to name just a few, premature cardiovascular mortality, diabetes, and infant mortality. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine found that racial and ethnic populations receive significantly inferior health care services, even controlling for all other factors, resulting in worse treatment outcomes.
For many of us committed to social justice and the health and wellbeing of our communities, this year’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is particularly powerful.
Our society once again finds itself at the precipice of race relations. Social justice advocates and organizers, furious with the recent high profile killings of Black youth, mostly young men, have taken up the banner that Dr. King carried so many years ago, and are demanding that the legal and justice systems recognize that Black lives matter.
This demand that Black (and by extension Brown) lives matter is a call to action. It is a call for us to reflect on the work of Dr. King and to take to heart his own call to action that “the time is always right to do what is right.” This call to action goes well beyond the legal and justice systems. It is a call to action for every institution, every system, and every individual in our society.
One clear area of society where Dr. King’s message and the demand that Black and Brown lives matter needs to permeate is our health care system. It is time for our health care providers to do what is right and make Black and Brown lives, particularly the lives of young Black and Brown men, a priority.