Environmental and Community Health

cyclists riding under bridge

The wellbeing of our community is inextricably linked with the physical and social contexts within which we live, learn, and play. We partner with foundations, not-for-profits, and local service agencies to better understand the complex relationships between health, environment, and community.

Recent and Current Projects

Lead Safe Research

Beginning in 2018, the Center launched a program of research focused on childhood lead poisoning in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. With funding from the George Gund Foundation, the Mt. Sinai Healthcare Foundation, the Saint Luke’s Foundation, and the Eva L. and Joseph M. Bruening Foundation, the Center is engaged in ongoing research and dissemination activities.

Following the launch of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition in January 2019, supported by the City of Cleveland, the Center serves as the Lead Safe Auditor to monitor the City’s lead-safe certification process, and provides key research and data support to the work of the Coalition. 

The Center, with funding from the Ohio State Bar Foundation and the Legal Aid Society, has analyzed and reported on the availability of rental housing for low-income households in Cuyahoga County, providing characterization of the housing stock based on property condition, age, assessed market value, and associated risk of  lead exposure. 


Supported by funds from the  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Poverty Center partnered with Starting Point,  a local child care and early education resource and referral agency, to analyze neighborhood-level child care capacity and enrollment data related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research team determined areas of child care shortage and surplus relative to neighborhood American Community Survey data and local unemployment estimates. An interactive ArcGIS StoryMap exploring the findings was created as a local resource for community organizations. Earned media included stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, News 5 Cleveland, and CWRU Daily.

Accountable Health Communities

Starting in 2018, over the course of five years, the United Way of Greater Cleveland was acting as a bridge organization linking Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries from Cuyahoga County, who opted to participate in a screening of health-related social needs, for stakeholders (clinical sites, social service providers, health care payors, government and community representatives) to appropriately align social services to respond to those needs.  The Poverty Center was providing annual gap analysis reports and analyses over the five-year grant period. 


In conjunction with University Hospital’s Rainbow Center for Child Health & Policy, Poverty Center researchers conducted a pilot study exploring the ecological antecedents to asthma-related school absenteeism. Researchers linked pediatric electronic medical records to the CHILD System and created detailed profiles including birth certificate information, lead testing, child maltreatment, homelessness, public assistance, juvenile justice and educational systems records that compared youth with an asthma diagnosis to similarly-aged and geographically-located peers.

Addressing Water Affordability

Recent policy and community advocacy research has documented large inequities in the secure provision of water services in the United States. Amidst the loss of federal funding and rising infrastructure costs, water delivery systems rely largely on consumer billing to sustain services. This translates into ever increasing water rates and penalties that disproportionately impact low-income renters and homeowners in segregated and marginalized neighborhoods. While customer assistance programs are common among water departments, they are underutilized and lack clear standards for what works locally to improve participation, affordability, and equity, while securing a resilient delivery system. Our research explored the use of integrated local administrative data as a tool to support program design, community engagement, outreach, and access for affordability programs, thus, supporting resilience in the Water Delivery System.

Care Access Now (CAN) Program Evaluation

In collaboration with Murtis Taylor Human Services System (MTHSS), the Poverty Center is conducting a two-year evaluation of MTHSS’ Care Access Now (CAN) program. The CAN program, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),  is designed to expand and improve clinical services to address the needs of individuals with serious emotional disturbance (SED), serious mental illness (SMI), and individuals with co-occurring disorders (COD), particularly among the uninsured and underinsured populations.

Reports and Briefs