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In Humboldt Park, Healthy Food and Health Care Often Out of Reach

Home to a diverse community, Humboldt Park illustrates the tremendous impact of structural racism on health—from food insecurity, hunger + obesity to depression, intimate violence + PTSD amid limited access to care Tweet This

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“Inadequate services mean you lose people when they’re finally willing to open up.”

The name “Humboldt Park” conjures up one of Chicago’s most beloved outdoor spaces—a West Side oasis home to a historic boathouse and stables, an inland beach and a quiet lagoon.

Humboldt Park is also identified with Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, many of whom call the neighborhood home. In fact, this community area is home to an incredibly diverse and vibrant population, including Puerto Rican, African-American, Mexican-American families and many more.

But as a diverse community, Humboldt Park also demonstrates the myriad poor health outcomes that structural racism can impart on all groups of color. Residents’ experiences illustrate the structural factors that often combine to keep better health beyond reach.

Map of Chicago neighborhoods, with Humboldt Park highlighted in yellow

Sinai Community Health Survey 2.0, a community-driven survey conducted in Humboldt Park and eight other areas around the city, highlights the health inequities resulting from socioeconomic barriers to opportunity.

Survey creators at Sinai Urban Health Institute shared the results in a series of neighborhood forums, to spark discussion and build more understanding of the interrelated dynamics of health and community. For the Humboldt Park and West-West Town communities, a joint forum was held that welcomed participants from both communities due to the close partnerships that transcend formal borders between the neighborhoods.

The key survey findings from Humboldt Park:

 

Hunger & food insecurity

In the past year, 49% of Humboldt Park households received food stamp benefits, and 30% of households accessed emergency food, such as a food pantry or soup kitchen. Despite this support, 46% of households were still food insecure, compared with 13% of households nationwide.

From the forums:

Food insecurity resonated with many of the residents attending the forum, both from their own experience and that of people they know. As one teacher shared, “A lot of students come back on Monday and they’re hungry. They may not have eaten over the weekend.”

While it’s clear at a glance how a low income can limit a family’s supply of food, a lack of resources can limit food quality as well as quantity. Healthy food can be bought at affordable prices, in theory—but finding it requires research, time and travel well outside the neighborhood. “Having a low income makes it hard to pay for transport for cheap, healthy foods,” said one resident. “A lot of smaller, corner stores are expensive.”

“A lot of students come back on Monday and they’re hungry. They may not have eaten over the weekend.”

 

Obesity & diabetes

According to survey results, 47% of Humboldt Park adults are obese: by contrast, the national adult obesity rate is 29.5%. 13% of adults in the neighborhood have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 9% of U.S. adults.

From the forums: Even with rates above the national average, community members were conscious that the true incidence of diabetes may be even higher. “Access to care drives diabetes diagnosis rates,” said one. “People may not have been diagnosed.”

Access to resources also surfaced in conversation as a contributing cause to obesity. Just as residents connected hunger to a lack of affordable healthy food, they further extended that connection to less healthy eating habits. “Pop and salty chips fill you up so you don’t feel hungry,” one attendee said. “Depression could be a cause of obesity,” another resident added. “There are many factors, not just food.”

 

PTSD & depression

The survey revealed that 27% of adults in Humboldt Park experience current symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 18% of adults have current symptoms of depression, compared to 7% of U.S. adults.

From the forums: Even with more than one-quarter of neighborhood adults reporting symptoms of PTSD in the survey, community residents shared that the experience is not widely understood, or openly discussed. “A lot of men have PTSD but hold it in,” one community member said. “The mentality that PTSD only happens to veterans needs to go.”

Those who do reach out for help are often stopped short by a lack of available care. “We need affordable mental health access,” one resident stated simply. “Inadequate services mean you lose people when they’re finally willing to open up.”

 

Domestic & intimate partner violence

Among adults in Humboldt Park, more than half–52%–reported witnessing domestic violence. 36% of women, and 13% of men, reported having experienced intimate partner violence themselves.

From the forums: Participants spoke from the heart about the complexity of living with violence in their relationships. “You want your partner, not the abuse,” one resident explained. “Not all women want to just leave.”

For people in abusive relationships who do consider leaving, there’s often “a lack of advocacy and empowerment” that makes such a profound change feel out of reach. Survival can be a complex calculation for individuals who are suffering direct physical violence, but who also feel financially disempowered and without options: “If you can’t support yourself economically, you won’t leave.”

Cover of the Community Health Profile for Humboldt Park
From physical environment to clinical care and health behaviors: See more findings from the survey in the Humboldt Park Community Health Profile

Established in 2002, Sinai Community Health Survey is the largest community-driven health survey ever conducted in Chicago. Its creators at Sinai Urban Health Institute had three goals:

  • Document the health status of selected community areas in Chicago
  • Understand the social factors associated with health-related behaviors, service utilization and outcomes
  • Use findings to develop public health interventions and policies to address health inequities

Sinai Survey 2.0 was launched in October 2013 with funding from The Chicago Community Trust, and includes approximately 500 questions on child and adult health. Data collection began in spring 2015, asking survey questions face-to-face to a randomly selected representative sample of residents from nine Chicago community areas, and concluded in fall 2016.

“One of the most powerful takeaways from the Sinai survey findings is understanding how much our health and wellbeing is shaped by the community around us,” said Kristin Monnard, program manager for Sinai Urban Health Institute.

“The Sinai Survey findings reflect the importance of looking at—and addressing—health at the local level. However, the local findings that we see from the Survey communities are reflections of broader policies and structural factors,” Monnard said. “While we need more resources at the local level, we also need structural change at the city, state, and national level.”

 

This is the fourth in our series of neighborhood profiles exploring Sinai Community Health Survey 2.0 findings that health experts identify as issues of significance and concern. You can view the earlier profiles in our series, taking a look at North Lawndale and Little Village and West-West Town, or explore the complete results at sinaisurvey.org.