Working for Your Health: There’s no place like home

A stable housing situation leads to better health and less stressors for everyone.


The concept of “home” varies from person to person; all of us know its importance. For many of us, home takes on greater meaning during the holiday season. It is a place where we gather with family, and welcome friends. It is where we prepare meals, celebrate life’s joys, mourn our losses, and rest comfortably within the security that a roof and four walls bring. “Home” is also a metaphor entwined with our identities — a very personal place, where our memories are stored and our hearts reside. It is a vital aspect of who we are, and as the medical field now attests, an important component in maintaining good health.

You may be surprised if during your annual physical, your doctor asks you about your housing. It has become a common question posed to patients, because the status of someone’s housing can have a direct effect on the state of their health. Your provider may want to know if your living environment contains hazards (such as a failed septic or heating system, structural problems, or mold), or if you are at risk of being displaced (perhaps by a landlord selling a home, or increasing the rent beyond your means). Being housing-insecure or living in unsafe housing is a risk to your health.

If you find yourself at risk due to problems with your housing, there are people who can help. Here is a partial list:

The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority manages year-round rentals, administers local rental assistance, and partners with other organizations that offer assistance with rent, utility costs, apartment rehabilitation, and homelessness prevention (

Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard builds simple, affordable homes for lower-income Island families (

Harbor Homes Martha’s Vineyard provides solutions to prevent homelessness, including congregate housing, transitional housing support, a winter shelter, a hotel respite program and case management (

Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard’s Home Safety Modification Program helps to make the homes of older adults safe by installing grab bars, handrails, and other safety related features, at no, or reduced, cost (

Island Elderly Housing offers affordable apartments to older adults and those with disabilities who are able to live independently (

Island Housing Trust creates and sustains permanently affordable housing, both rental and ownership (

The Resource Inc. helps low- through moderate-income residents stay in their homes by providing needed repairs through a forgivable loan program (

Through their services, these organizations and others are helping to improve the overall health of our community. They understand that the stressors of being housing-insecure, or living in unsafe conditions, can create new health problems, or worsen existing ones. They know that when someone faces this type of instability, there are associated challenges, such as financial woes, a need to move frequently, or barriers in accessing medical or dental care. According to Healthy People 2020, households are considered to be cost-burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and severely cost-burdened if they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Unfortunately, these figures are now common across our Island. Those who are cost-burdened have little left over money to spend on food, clothing, utilities, healthcare, and other necessities (

Housing insecurity doesn’t affect just those afflicted by it, it affects us all. As overall population health wanes, and services for an area’s residents decline, so do we. By supporting our housing organizations, we are doing more than improving our infrastructure or assuaging our consciences, we are improving the health of our community. As public health educators know, a community must be healthy in order to thrive.

In Judy Garland’s iconic role as Dorothy in the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” the journey to find “home” is not unlike what many of our Island residents face. They may worry about what lies on the road ahead, and like Dorothy, their journeys are often fraught with precarious challenges. In the movie, Dorothy remains strong and delivers a timeless message of faith and courage to all those who are struggling: Never give up.

For those who are tirelessly working to create, or to help others find or improve their housing, thank you!

During this precious holiday season, let’s be reminded, “there’s no place like home.”