Burlington County fair to address health and housing needs

Burlington County's Human Services Building in Westampton, N.J.

File photo: Burlington County's Human Services Building in Westampton, N.J.(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Burlington County officials will mark Minority Health Month by hosting a free resource fair that is focused on healthy lifestyles and housing.

The Bring Health Home housing and health resource fair is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon at the county Human Services Facility, 795 Woodlane Road, in Westampton. It’s being hosted by the county commissioners, health and human services departments and the Minority and Equal Rights Task Force.

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Malikah Morris, deputy director of the Human Services Department and task force chair, said the intersection of health disparities and housing disparities is seen frequently.

“A lot of people think that they are mutually exclusive and they aren’t,” she said. “It’s been proven data wise, from the CDC and other sources, that your housing stability has direct impact on your health outcomes.”

County Commissioner Felicia Hopson added that they want to make sure residents are getting all of the resources available to them, while noting that Burlington County was voted as one of the healthiest communities in the country.

“We really just wanted to piggyback on that and just make sure that we’re offering our residents absolutely everything that we can offer them,” she said.

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On the health side, there will be free health screenings, talk and information sessions in addition to COVID-19 tests and vaccines. There will also be a yoga class and a couple of Zumba classes.

To address housing needs, representatives from county and state agencies along with several non-profit organizations will be present for mortgage, rental and utility assistance. Fun will be part of the event as well with food, prizes, and raffles.

Morris, who oversees the community outreach for the Human Services Department, said keeping a regular presence in the community and staying in contact with the organizations went a long way in getting the event together.

“You want to keep yourself very personable and just make sure that you’re keeping your teams out in the community so that they feel comfortable saying what they don’t know when asking for the services that they need so that you know what you need to provide,” she added.

Researchers have found that people who live in neighborhoods that were subjected to a discriminatory lending practice known as redlining are more likely to have shorter life spans.

Dr. Stephanie Silvera, a Montclair State University professor who studies health disparities, adds if a redline map of the 1950s is overlaid with one of current racial breakdowns, “they’re almost identical.”

“One of the most stark examples of this is in Detroit and Eight Mile Road,” she said, “having a literal wall that was constructed to separate races for housing purposes… that hasn’t changed demographically all that much.”

Silvera called fairs like this one “a good first step” in addressing the problem.

“They’re talking about things like rental assistance and mortgage assistance and utility assistance, which especially right now when people are struggling post-COVID, people who’ve lost jobs and the moratoriums are being taken away on evictions,” she said.

The next step that is needed, Silvera adds, is to look at the policies “that have gotten us to where we have to have these types of programs or fairs so that we can change the policies to create more stable housing for more people.”

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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