Survey shows significant barriers to good health for southwest Houston residents

HOUSTON – Families need food, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods and access to health care in order to survive.

But many families in southwest Houston are facing the harsh realities from the COVID-19 pandemic and our economy. Families are left worrying about food insecurity, unemployment and being evicted from their homes or apartments.

A new report, conducted by Texas Health Institute and commissioned by the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation, found that residents in some of southwest Houston’s most diverse communities experience a higher burden of chronic disease and multiple social, economic and environmental barriers that affect their overall health.

The Gulfton area is home to countless immigrants and refugees who are all trying to survive and provide a better life for their children.

The CHAT organization is helping, but there is only so much they can do.

“CHAT stands for Culture of Health-Advancing Together and the mission of our organization is to improve the health and well-being of immigrants and refugees,” Dr. Aisha Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui said she found her purpose for helping others during her dissertation.

“I was working with South Asian women and the challenges that they faced in raising the families here in Houston and the United States -- that was the reason I created this non-profit organization,” she said.

In the past five years, CHAT has been helping the community and focusing on the social determinants of health.

“We do the cooking classes or sometimes women will come and have lunches,” she said.

The organization is nestled at an apartment complex on Hornwood Drive in Gulfton -- an area that Siddiqui said is home to many immigrants and refugees.

“First, it used to be more Spanish speaking immigrants. But now, it’s people from the Middle East, people from Afghanistan, people from Southeast Asia, South Asia, Burma, Sudan, everywhere. So, this is a very, very diverse community,” she said.

But the community has numerous barriers on the road to good health.

“During COVID, this was the most impacted area, this was the highest number of COVID cases were in this area just because people didn’t know and the message is, we’re not coming here. And that’s why I said we cannot leave anybody behind if we want the success in Houston,” Dr. Siddiqui added.

The Texas Health Institute and Memorial Hermann surveyed 1,000 people in Alief, Gulfton, Sharpstown, Westbury and Greater Fondren to see what kind of health care crises families are facing.

Data was collected from the fall and winter of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve known that there is particular area of Houston where people are not as healthy, they are more economically disadvantaged than those while live in other parts of the city and the two are tied together,” Dr. David Callendar said.

Dr. David Callendar is the President and CEO of Memorial Herman. He said it’s part of the organization’s mission to improve the health of the community.

“This is a good first step for us in understanding the perspectives and then we have some ideas about where we go with this information in the future,” Dr. Callendar said.

The survey says more people had high cases of high blood pressure (32 percent), diabetes (19 percent) and depression (19 percent) than others in Harris County and throughout the State of Texas. Caucasians and African Americans in these communities faced even higher rates of these conditions. In addition, 47 percent of adults in the surveyed areas do not have health insurance.

The survey also revealed a high percentage of residents experienced problems with food insecurity, crime and pollution. In fact, 40 percent of people were unable to pay for food in the past year.

Most people in the Gulfton area must walk more than 30 minutes to the nearest grocery store.

There are several murals in the community that help preserve the neighborhood. It’s part of the Gulf Trust Story Trail.

“They see themselves and usually in the past, murals or artwork in the areas that are like upper class rich areas, but in this one says they are not going to the museums, they are not going to the art gallery, so art has come to them to beautify their neighborhood,” Dr. Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui said there could be big improvements to the area and people’s health if elected officials stepped up.

“Yeah. And I think that’s where the survey from Memorial Hermann plays the role to make more changes, big changes in this area, and how some policy changes, and then some, some of the, you know, action items like how we can improve this area, and how we can make life better in this area,” Dr. Siddiqui said.

Memorial Hermann said there is still more work that needs to be done. Dr. Callendar said they must listen to people in the community and build up their trust, in order to have a stronger Houston .