Structural inequality exacerbates homelessness challenges for pregnant people in Washington, DC

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New research conducted among Washington, DC residents who experienced homelessness during pregnancy sheds light on the intersection of homelessness, pregnancy, and racial inequality. The findings underscore the urgent need for changes in policy and practice to support vulnerable populations.

The study, published in the journal Health equityis grounded in a reproductive justice framework and delves into the lived experiences of twenty D.C. residents who found themselves homeless while pregnant.

Homelessness during pregnancy is a symptom of broader structural inequalities in access to safe and stable housing, and exacerbates adverse health outcomes for birthing people and infants. Conducted by researchers pursuing action-oriented recommendations, the findings highlighted three key areas for policy and practice improvements:

  • Timely access to safe housing: One of the most important recommendations is to ensure that pregnant individuals have timely and meaningful access to safe and stable housing. The lack of safe housing not only impacts immediate health, but also sets the stage for long-term challenges to child rearing and family stability.
  • Comprehensive care coordination: The study calls for improved care coordination, which includes services and referrals that support physical, mental and social well-being. Housing insecurity is often intertwined with other complex needs, necessitating a holistic approach to healthcare and social support systems.
  • Economic justice and affordable housing: Access to a living wage and affordable housing emerged as critical components. Economic disparities, exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, disproportionately affect marginalized communities, reinforcing the cycle of homelessness and health inequities.

The study’s lead researcher says stable housing is critical to child and parent health outcomes.

“Pregnant and parenting people in Washington, DC, need to have a stable home as early as possible in the pregnancy,” said Christina Nursing. “That stability can improve the health outcomes of birthing people and babies, support their ability to plan for the postpartum period, and allow them to enjoy this incredible life transition without the unrelenting stress and fear of homelessness.”

The insights from the research have directly influenced strategic policy and practice recommendations, paving the way for a new model of collaboration between sectors. Initiatives such as the DC Calling All Sectors Initiative (CASI), led by the DC Health Office of Health Equity, are examples of the commitment to closing structural gaps and meeting the needs of vulnerable populations.

“The perspectives of people with lived experience have directly led to new initiatives at Community of Hope to support people who are pregnant and experiencing homelessness,” said Kelly Sweeney McShane, CEO of Community of Hope, a community health center and homeless service provider that supported the study. “The perinatal period is so important, and stable housing and access to health care are important components for both parent and baby during that critical period.”

The study’s recommendations align with broader efforts to advance healthcare equity and dismantle systemic injustices. Sustained political will and concerted efforts are essential to achieving tangible improvements in the accessibility of housing and perinatal care.

The authors highlight that as the country grapples with ongoing challenges of housing insecurity and healthcare disparities, initiatives rooted in community-based participatory research and intentionally informed by the lived experience of affected residents offer a beacon of hope for transformative change. The voices and experiences of those experiencing homelessness during pregnancy serve as a catalyst for a more inclusive and equitable future.

More information:
Navigating Homelessness Support While Pregnant: A Rapid Qualitative Research-Policy Collaboration in Washington DC, Health equity (2024). DOI: 10.1089/heq.2023.0235

Provided by Georgetown University Medical Center


Quote: Structural inequality increases homelessness challenges for pregnant people in Washington, DC (2024, May 30), retrieved May 30, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05-inequities-amplify-homelessness -pregnant-people.html

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