Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry and Healthy People: Repairing Homes to Help Ensure Safety and Independence

This post is part of Healthy People 2020 in Review, a blog series highlighting how organizations across the nation are addressing social determinants of health — and how their efforts have helped us make progress toward Healthy People goals and objectives. The post describes how Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, a Healthy People 2030 Champion, contributed to progress toward Healthy People 2020 objectives — as well as Healthy People 2030 objectives under the social determinants of health domain Neighborhood and Built Environment.

Living in a home that’s safe and accessible is key to health and well-being — but for many people, cost is a barrier. Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) is working to change that for homeowners in Southeastern North Carolina.

WARM was founded in 1996 to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricanes Fran and Bertha. Since then, WARM has expanded its focus, not only responding to several hurricanes but also repairing homes where the owners have deferred maintenance — often because of cost. Today, WARM has served over 1,700 families impacted by unsafe housing. 

This work is closely aligned with objectives in Healthy People 2020 and Healthy People 2030 — and WARM’s efforts at the community level contribute to national progress toward creating neighborhoods and environments that promote health and safety.

“Our mission is to make homes safe — for older adults, Veterans, people with disabilities, and low-wealth families,” says Kim Gore, Director of Homeowner Services at WARM. “It’s all about ensuring people are safer — which we know is critical to their health and quality of life.” 

Prioritizing Home Safety and Health

WARM provides a variety of services, including roof, floor, plumbing, and electrical repair. It also installs heating and air-conditioning units and general appliances, replaces doors and windows, and builds wheelchair ramps. To qualify for WARM’s services, applicants need to own — and live in — the home, and the requested repairs must address safety or health issues.

WARM serves clients with a total household income that’s no more than 80 percent of their county’s median income. In addition, many of the homeowners that WARM serves are older adults, a priority audience for Healthy People 2030. Gore says the ability to “age in place” is critical to preserving people’s dignity and independence. 

She also notes that WARM’s clients have often had to choose between paying for home repairs or basic needs, such as food or medication. WARM aims to ease this burden. 

“When we make critical repairs, we’re not only helping keep people safe in their homes but also helping make it possible for them to afford other essential resources,” Gore says. “When it comes to their health and safety, no one should have to decide what to live without because of the cost.”

Offering Support Beyond the Home

WARM understands that a safe home is only one of the factors contributing to health and well-being — which is why it doesn’t limit its work to home repair. 

Instead, it addresses social determinants of health (SDOH) more broadly, in line with Healthy People’s focus on SDOH. Specifically, WARM staff members interview clients to determine what other issues they may be facing — like food insecurity, lack of transportation, or health concerns — and then provides clients with contact information for specific organizations that can help meet those needs. Gore says an important part of her job is to build connections with other organizations and stay informed about the resources and services they offer.

“We work hard to support individuals and families holistically — and supporting people holistically means working closely with our network of partners. Only when we work together will we give people a fair chance to be safe and healthy,” Gore says.

Continuing the Work with Healthy People 2030

Gore says WARM is using Healthy People 2030 objectives to inform its own goals for its community. In addition, the organization will refer to Healthy People resources to make sure its efforts align with Healthy People’s priority areas as it continues to ensure that community members are living in safe and accessible homes.

“Our organization, with the support of Healthy People, will continue to do our part to help people stay safe and healthy,” Gore says. “Through our work to provide safe housing, we can give more people an opportunity to age in place for the rest of their life.”

If your organization works to address social determinants of health and achieve health equity, consider applying to join the Healthy People 2030 Champion Program.

Categories: health.gov Blog, Healthy People in Action