Local organization prevents health and safety hazards in our neighborhoods

Imagine discovering your beautiful one-year-old daughter has permanent brain damage because of lead poisoning.

Or imagine spending the night in the emergency room watching your son struggle to breathe from an asthma attack caused by pests or mold in your home.

Now imagine losing loved ones in a fire because you didn’t have a working smoke detector to warn of the danger.

These are real and serious health and safety hazards that can be prevented. The number one reason these situations still occur is because of a lack of money. Considering one in four families in Kent County live in poverty, our community has some work to do to ensure everyone can live a safe and healthy life.

That’s where the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan comes in. This nonprofit organization with a staff of five and not nearly enough volunteers tirelessly educates and helps low-income people so they are able to live in healthy homes free of environmental hazards.

Executive Director Paul Haan says they offer “low cost, common sense solutions.” He acknowledges there are companies who offer the same services they do, but “the problem is that people often can’t afford it.” Many of the services at the Healthy Homes Coalition are free to those who qualify.

The organization focuses on families with pregnant women and children under the age of six. Haan says the brains and lungs of children are still developing until they reach this age and many preventable environmental factors cause dangerous health issues.  

The Healthy Homes Coalition offers the following programs to the community:
-    Visual inspections for lead paint, mold and moisture
-    Radon testing
-    Installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
-    Pest management by offering simple lifestyle changes and home repairs to prevent and eliminate mice, rats and cockroaches, which have been shown to aggravate asthma and allergies
-    Educational programs on how to prevent lead poisoning and other environmental hazards
-    Family mentoring
-    Advocacy  

Volunteers are always needed to help with these programs and in other ways. Your talents as a handyperson, writer, photographer, graphic designer, accountant or any number of other skills are needed. No matter what you’re capable of, the waiting list at the Healthy Homes Coalition is long and they will find some way for you to get involved.

“Everyone deserves to live in a healthy home” is the motto the organization operates by. Haan reminds us that the person who needs help may be your next-door neighbor or a family member. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a single mother living in an impoverished neighborhood; it could be the married woman who served your lunch at the local café who needs help.

“Poverty’s not just out there behind closed doors; it’s everywhere in the community,” Haan says. “Neighbors have to help neighbors.”

If you’d like to help the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan prevent avoidable health and safety hazards in our community, here are some ways to get involved:

-    Visit the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan online to find out more about the organization.
-    Volunteer your time and skills.
-    Donate to the Healthy Homes Coalition.
-    Like the Healthy Homes Coalition on Facebook.

Sources: Paul Haan, Executive Director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, and Besty Quinlan, Volunteer Outreach Coordinator

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
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