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Monday, August 31, 2020

Back to school during COVID-19: How a safe, decent, and healthy home plays a role in student success


According to our June 2020 survey of Star rated nonprofits, 72% of organizations have suffered financially due to the pandemic. Additionally, 54% of respondents have cut back on program services due to the pandemic/economic shutdown. To overcome this disruption and to continue to serve communities, many nonprofits are adapting and innovating. 


Today, we are honored to share a first-hand account of what innovation and adaptation look like during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis from Habitat for Humanity.


Around this time last year, students, parents and teachers across the country prepared for

another school year. They purchased school supplies, set up their classrooms, packed lunches,

and everyone shared the anticipation of what was supposed to be an exciting year.

As the novel coronavirus made its way across the United States, that classroom scene changed

dramatically. As infection rates soared, public health and government officials implemented

stay-at-home orders, restricted travel, and closed schools to curb the spread.


The 2020-2021 school year started this month and school districts are grappling with how to

teach students safely during a pandemic. Many have resorted to delaying the start of the school

year or going fully virtual. Some have reopened for in-person instruction. Others are taking a

hybrid approach.


Based on public health guidance, remote learning seems to be the safest option for most

schools in the near term. Ideally, staying home and sheltering in place should lessen everyone’s

risk of being exposed and the potential to get sick.


But what happens to those children whose homes are not safe or healthy? What if home doesn’t

provide a quiet retreat to read or study? What if home, the place that is supposed to be a safe

haven and refuge, is actually making a child sick?


Before the pandemic, more than 18 million American households were spending half or more of

their income on housing. As a result, many families struggle to cover basic necessities like food

and health care, and are often forced to live in unsafe, unsanitary, unaffordable homes. With

tens of millions of Americans now out of work and government assistance running dry, the situation is far worse.


An unhealthy home can have severe and lasting impacts on a child’s development and overall

outcomes in life. Living in a home with pests, poor ventilation, lack of heat or air conditioning,

and mold negatively affects children’s health, which, in turn, can cause them to miss school and

the quality education they need to be successful.


We are told that staying home is the best thing we can do to protect our health. However, we

must think about those who may not have a decent home to retreat to. We must think of the

families who may not have the option of sheltering in place. We must think of those who are

disproportionality affected, especially minorities and vulnerable populations. We must think of

how these factors will ultimately affect students as they return to school.


With COVID-19 continuing to surge across our nation, it is apparent that the lack of adequate

housing in the United States will only exacerbate these challenges, especially for children. But

there is something we can do about it.


At Habitat for Humanity, we know that a healthy and safe home provides a place for rest, food

preparation, good hygiene. It helps decrease stress, improves mental health, and, especially

now, prevents unnecessary hospitalizations.


In the past 40 years, Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 29 million people around the

world improve their housing conditions. We have witnessed families prosper, improve their

health, and become a stronger unit. We have seen children of homeowners become better

students and excel in their education because they didn’t have to worry about where they would

sleep that night or if their parents would be able to pay that month’s rent. We’ve witnessed

entire communities transform and thrive as a result.


As students return to this uncertain school year, it is imperative, now more than ever, that they

have a safe and decent place to call home. A place where they can study without disturbance, a

place that is sturdy and healthy, a place that will open the door for abundant opportunities. We

must continue to make decent and affordable housing a priority as we navigate these

challenging times and create affordable housing opportunities that will provide students the

foundations for a healthier and stronger future.


Written by Adrienne Goolsby, senior vice president, U.S. & Canada, Habitat for Humanity International. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Adrienne provides strategic leadership and managerial oversight to further Habitat’s efforts in helping families build or improve a place they can call home.

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