Press Release

$2.4M grant will fund housing equity initiative to improve infant mortality in Indianapolis

September 15th, 2022 | 6 min read

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 15, 2022) – The Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI has received a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to launch a housing equity initiative to reduce Indianapolis’ infant mortality rate.

The Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will address housing, a key social determinant of poor infant health. Housing instability has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

The Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will provide support in finding housing and navigating the legal system to pregnant and parenting women in Marion County experiencing housing instability or poor housing quality. Using evidence-based research, the initiative will address city, state and federal policy and systemic barriers that keep women from having quality and stable housing.

“Access to safe, secure, quality housing is a right we believe in for all moms and babies, as we know that this is a foundation that promotes maternal and infant health and well-being," said Jack Turman Jr., director of the Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative and the Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Initiative, and professor in the Fairbanks School of Public Health. “We are honored to have been selected to carry out this important work of advancing infant health equity across Indianapolis.

“All of our incredible partners worked so hard alongside us to put this grant together. We look forward to working to improve our city’s infant and maternal health outcomes by building systems that support housing equity for our most vulnerable moms and babies.”

Infant mortality is viewed as an indicator of health status across the world. Indiana has the 10th highest infant mortality rate in the nation, according to America’s Health Rankings. Black Hoosiers face double the rate of infant mortality when compared to white and Hispanic populations in the state.

“The critical work of providing stability can now begin on a scale that can have generational impact on some of the most vulnerable resources we have: mothers and babies. This is beyond exciting,” said Kelly Evans, who is a grassroots maternal and child health leader at the Fairbanks School and the community solutions and entrepreneurship center coordinator at the Edna Martin Christian Center in Indianapolis.

The Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will bring Healthy Beginnings at Home -- an evidence-based intervention for pregnant women experiencing housing instability -- to Marion County. The intervention will provide housing navigation services, 24 months of tapering rental assistance and housing case management to pregnant women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Marion County. The initiative has set a goal to serve at least 100 families over the grant period.

Fairbanks faculty will partner with CareSource to evaluate the program’s impact on birth outcomes and health care costs. CareSource was a key partner in the Ohio-based pilot of Healthy Beginnings at Home, which demonstrated success in reducing adverse birth outcomes in a recent, randomized control trial in Columbus, Ohio, where the intervention group saw no infant deaths and more full term, healthy births. It also resulted in substantially shorter NICU stays and reduced need for emergency health care and shelter services.

“As a managed care organization, CareSource makes commitments to state governments to improve overall health and well-being of their residents,” said Steve Smitherman, president of CareSource Indiana.“Our experience tells us that access to stable, affordable, quality housing improves health outcomes. The Healthy Beginnings at Home pilot will ensure we receive data proving our strategy is effective in helping pregnant women with a high risk of infant mortality. We are proud to partner with all the organizations involved with bringing the program to Hoosiers.”

Merchants Affordable Housing Corp. is excited to collaborate with the Healthy Beginnings at Home intervention as a catalyst for infant health equity,” said Greg Stocking, vice president of rental assistance programs at Merchants.“Together, we will leverage the existing infrastructure of the HomeNow Indy initiative to connect at-risk mothers’ families to housing navigation services, flexible funds to address barriers to housing, and safe housing units with the goal of improving maternal and child health outcomes.”

As part of the Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiativethe Indiana Justice Project will lead a team focused on interventions in the legal system. It will combine “know your rights” education, direct legal services, strategic litigation, and advocacy to improve both housing stability and housing conditions for pregnant Hoosiers.

“Too often families facing eviction or housing loss do not know their legal rights or how to enforce them,” said Adam Mueller, executive director of IJP. “And in many ways the current legal framework around rental housing in Indiana falls short of protecting those rights. IJP is honored to lead the health-justice intervention as a part of this project. It will allow us to develop new legal materials to empower families as well as identifying legal and policy changes to decrease housing insecurity.”

The Initiative will be led by a steering committee that also includes representation from the Indiana Department of Health MCH Division, the City of Indianapolis Office of Public Health & Safety, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP) and Wheeler Mission.

“The City of Indianapolis’s Office of Public Health and Safety is proud to partner with IU’s Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative and congratulates the project on its recent $2.4 million award from the Health Resources and Services Administration,” said Andrew Merkley, administrator of homelessness policy and eviction prevention for the City of Indianapolis.“This funding will be critical to the overall success of the project and ensures our shared interest for reducing housing inequities in Indianapolis.”

“The Indianapolis Community Plan to End Homelessness defines our shared believe that ‘everyone has the right to be housed and connected to care’ and CHIP is excited to serve as a steering committee member to help bring more solutions and choices for families experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk,” said Sharvonne Williams, project manager at CHIP.

“Understanding the needs and barriers of vulnerable populations is essential to advancing policy solutions that will address Indiana's housing affordability and stability crisis," said Jessica Love, executive director for Prosperity Indiana, which leads the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition. “We appreciate that the Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will not only raise awareness of these challenges, but will provide further evidence to support innovative approaches to tackle these barriers.”

“Wheeler Mission Center for Women & Children is thrilled to partner with these other wonderful organizations to advocate for the human rights of low-income moms, babies, and families in our city. This exciting project will raise awareness of the importance of infant housing equity,” said Bethany LaRocco, director of family services at Wheeler Mission.

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