It is well-documented both nationally and in Rhode Island that poor communities and communities of color suffer disproportionate health and environmental burdens. In Providence, this is an urban issue where, for example, the air quality is worse, access to healthy foods is limited, there is inadequate green space and recreational opportunities, and houses are older and often not well maintained.
Approximately $2.15 million of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding is awarded to the Rhode Island Department of Health each year to support local governments and non-profit organizations statewide that combat these deeply-rooted issues. These awards are allotted to incite innovative approaches to preventing chronic diseases, improving birth outcomes, and ameliorating the social and environmental conditions of our neighborhoods.
With the support of this federal funding, The Rhode Island Department of Health began a statewide “Health Equity Zones” (HEZ) initiative in April of 2015. A HEZ is a defined community and/or geographic area with high rates of obesity, illness, injury, chronic disease, or other adverse health outcomes. Funding was awarded by the department to 11 different local community collaboratives to address the social determinants of health across the HEZ network and to track health improvements resulting from their work.
EJLRI is thrilled to have been awarded $151,000 of funding from the RI Department of Health to approach environmental, reproductive, and social justice work through a health equity lens. EJLRI serves as the lead organization for the Communities Organizing for Health Equity in Providence (COHEP) collaborative, a group of social justice organizations and programs that will work together in the lower Elmwood, Washington Park, and Reservoir neighborhoods. COHEP’s core partners include EJLRI, Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), and RI Doula Collective.
As community organizers, we know that the root causes of health inequities often include institutionalized racism, sexism, and gentrification. Building upon decades of successful change work, COHEP organizations will address a variety of social determinants to health, including housing and tenant rights, criminalization and racial profiling, LGBTQ rights, environmental toxins and pollution, access to healthy food, lead poisoning and housing conditions, and pre- and postnatal care. Rather than a traditional direct service approach that enters into a community from the outside to provide a service, COHEP agencies work hand-in-hand with community members to define issues, create common agendas, and develop solutions. We mobilize the leadership within a community in order to facilitate systemic change and health equity.
Below are a few maps showing different aspects of the Health Equity Zones we are working with (view the full research poster here) :