Geospacial Solutions

Transform Communities Using Geospatial Solutions

As seen on GovLoop.

Since 1992, the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) advances the health and safety of communities throughout the country and Mexico. The agency looks at policies and systems that play a role in alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse, and factors that lead to crime and blight in neighborhoods. They work with communities to bring fresh produce and awareness of nutrition to underserved neighborhoods. They help facilitate self-sufficient, fully engaged community members into becoming champions for their neighborhoods by giving them tools to work with policymakers effectively and strategically.

To do this, IPS created the A.C.T. Model – Approach to Community Transformation. This multiprong approach guides the agency’s efforts in working with policymakers, enforcement agencies, civic leaders, businesses, faith communities and residents to help realize the type of communities we want to live in.

Act ModelGeographic information systems (GIS) plays a large part in the success of its efforts. IPS uses this technology in all five components of the A.C.T. Model.

Data and Research

IPS’ work is evidence-informed: They rely on scientific knowledge, using a fair degree of flexibility to allow for unique conditions, to make sound decisions. The plethora of data out there is limitless. Accessing, using and interpreting the data has its challenges. GIS allows IPS to harness that data and look for trends and patterns to make sound decisions.

For its work in addressing health disparities among the Latino population in San Diego’s South Bay, IPS collected data from many different sources: health, crime, socioeconomic, education and environmental. The team then compiled the data into a geodatabase and mapped it on top of census tracts or ZIP codes to visually represent conditions in the South Bay. This decision-making tool enables the project team to identify communities most in need of intervention.

Media Advocacy

Getting IPS’ messaging into the news is key to impacting policy and systems change. Media advocacy is purposeful and strategic and not designed to only inform the public of policy impacts. Television and print news rely heavily on compelling videos, photographs and infographics, such as interactive maps, to help tell the story that the audience can relate to and empathize with.

For instance, in 2019, several college campuses around the country dealt with the tragic consequences of binge and underage drinking, particularly in fraternities. This included IPS’ own San Diego community. To put a face to each of the victims and to tell their stories, IPS created a map that pinpointed where each tragedy took place with pictures and text. The map was submitted with a news release to local media outlets to engage viewers in understanding the problem and advocating for policies at either the university administration level or the national fraternity organization level to protect college students.

Policy Buy-In and Development

Gaining support for a policy can be complicated. It requires awareness and buy-in of all stakeholders. GIS provides tools such as maps, data dashboards and story maps to help communicate policy goals in an easy-to-understand manner to stakeholders, such as decision-makers, community members, enforcement agencies and news media.

The Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative (BUDI) at IPS works on preventing harm from alcohol, especially among teens and young adults. To gain support from the harm prevention community for BUDI’s policy advocacy work, IPS created a story map to highlight the issue of alcohol problems in San Diego County and presented it at the Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County’s quarterly meeting. The story map combines pictures, graphs, maps and text to provide a multidimensional narrative of alcohol harm prevention efforts.


For a policy to succeed, it requires community awareness and regular and consistent enforcement. Compliance checks ensure that businesses, for example, are following municipality- or state-mandated regulations that keep neighborhoods free from harm. This helps keep businesses accountable and builds trust among community members.

GIS allows IPS to collect its own data to make sure policies are upheld. For example, it created an app that assesses a bar or restaurant’s compliance with the state alcohol regulatory agency’s rules on responsible beverage sales and service.

In the past, observers recorded their assessment on paper. By digitizing the assessment so that it is accessible on a mobile device, the user can discretely record their observations and immediately build upon the underlying database. The database is then used to track the policy’s enforcement over time. It also informs the AOD prevention community if a bar has done a commendable job at preventing over-service of alcohol, or if intervention is necessary to advise bar owners and managers of lapses in responsible business practices. The process is now more efficient and less cumbersome for data recorders.

Community Organizing

Communities that rally around an issue will find success when they fully understand the underlying reasons for the problems they encounter. Maps help community groups grasp how a geographic location is related to disease, crime and other threats to health and safety.

Team members in IPS’ Pomona office are food security and nutrition champions in their city. Green space and urban gardens are found to promote nutrition and physical and mental health. But what happens when children and teens do not have access to them?

To answer this question, IPS first mapped out the locations of healthy food sources (farmer’s markets, urban gardens, fresh food markets, etc.) and fast food restaurants. The locations’ proximity to a local middle school was symbolized through different colored lines – blue for healthy and nutritious sources, red for unhealthy fast food. The resulting map showed that the red lines were shorter than the blue lines, meaning more fast food restaurants were closer to the middle school than healthy food sources. This demonstrated that students were at an increased risk of dietary problems and resulting diseases, because healthy foods were not as accessible as non-healthy options. Visualizing the data this way prompted support for establishing more urban gardens near the school and nutrition education at the school.

Because GIS is both an art and a science, IPS continues to promote healthy and safe communities by leveraging the technology’s creative and analytical tools, making this dynamic system appealing to anyone who has a stake in envisioning a brighter future for their communities.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Project, and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.

Social Justice

5 Questions that Incorporate Racial Equity into Public Policy – Part 2

As seen on GovLoop.

Policymakers must consider racial equity implications during the enforcement phase as well as the development phase of a policy. This requires an understanding of how different populations will specifically be affected when it is enforced. For instance, will its enforcement result in further harm to Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander people or other minority groups?

Many policies are directed toward populations that may not have equal access to social determinants of health. These are the conditions that define a person’s quality of life, from the type of physical environment they live in to the education they receive and the socioeconomic factors that contribute to their overall health. Minority groups especially may find themselves unjustly penalized because they do not have the same opportunities for a higher quality life.

For instance, this has important significance for minority groups since more non-white people are homeless per capita than white people. Laws that prohibit loitering or sleeping in a public space may not have much impact on some. But if policies do not address the underlying issues such as the housing crisis, unemployment, mental health and substance abuse that may lead to homelessness in the first place, we miss out on an opportunity to intervene in improving the well-being of those living on the streets.

In the case of homelessness, enforcing a no-loitering policy should also come with a remedy for mitigating the reason someone is unsheltered.

When considering racial equity in the enforcement of a policy, it helps for decision-makers to consider the following questions:

1) Are resources in place to equitably enforce the policy?

Funding for staff and infrastructure must be equitably accessible to all populations. Here, it is necessary to distinguish between “equality” and “equity.” Equality is when everybody receives the same amount of resources. Equity is when everybody receives the resources specific to their circumstances to achieve the same opportunity.

In this situation, staffing and infrastructure must be determined based on the individual community’s needs that the policy serves, recognizing that each community has different levels of resources.

2) Are sanctions or punishments levied equitably (not equally!) across populations?

If an individual who is low-income, for instance, is given the choice between paying a fine or going to jail, their decision may come down to putting food on the table for their family or missing work while detained. It is easier for higher-income individuals to pay the fine, whereas lower-income individuals may wrestle with the two options, neither of which promote mental well-being. How will the policy further undermine the well-being of vulnerable populations?

3) Is the community aware of the policy and how it will be enforced?

Community awareness of a policy ensures that there is a clear understanding of its objectives and impacts. It establishes expectations and the accountability of enforcers for equitable enforcement. It also helps achieve buy-in and support from the community.

4) Who will be harmed if the policy is not enforced equitably?

Failure to enforce regulations equitably across all populations means that some communities will remain disadvantaged.

For example, environmental laws put a cap on the amount of pollutants that can be released into the air. However, often due to a lack of enforcement of these laws, people who live close to factories and industrial areas experience higher rates of respiratory problems and other negative health outcomes. Not surprisingly, low income minority groups are often the ones that live close to polluters. High income white people, on the other hand, live farther away and therefore have fewer health problems.

5) Is the policy flexible enough to allow for changes if data and evaluation show that enforcement is ineffective?

Data is key in determining if enforcement is working or if it produces inequitable conditions. Policies may include evaluation metrics that trigger a shift or halt to implementation and enforcement.

Rather than scrapping an ineffective policy altogether, small tweaks may produce a much more desirable (and economically efficient) outcome based on changing conditions. Metrics should take into account population-specific outcomes.

Equitable enforcement of policies results in healthier communities. When policies are equitably enforced, minority groups are given the same opportunities as white people to achieve optimal health, creating more fairness in the distribution of resources.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Project, and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.

Social Justice

5 Questions That Incorporate Racial Equity Into Public Policy – Part I

As seen on GovLoop.

When developing public policies, racial equity should be considered from the very beginning.

‘Equity’ is a state where everyone can achieve optimal health, well-being and happiness, where no one is denied this ability due to race or socioeconomic status. By contrast, ‘inequity’ is an avoidable consequence of public policies that favor one group over another.

This month, Americans celebrated our independence. We were reminded of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The majority of the population has enjoyed these rights since the beginning of our country. For others, however, especially communities of colors, these rights have not been easily attainable, if at all. Centuries of policies were created and enforced with implicit or explicit biases that prevented them from living the kind of lives they desired.

Now as our nation is reckoning with systemic racial inequities, whether it is from disparate health outcomes due to COVID-19 or the call for police reform due to racially charged events, agencies from all sectors are taking a practical and closer look at policies that create a more equitable society. Racial equity tools are guides that evaluate policies with the goal of benefiting everyone, not just a select few.

Considerations into racial equity can be incorporated into both the development and enforcement phases of a policy. Here are questions that agency staff can use to guide a principled approach to public policy development.

1) Does a policy that ensures racial equity exist? Does an existing one need to be revised to incorporate a fair chance for everyone to achieve the same benefit?

For example, Black people are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite equal rates of use. Black people are less likely to have charges dropped than white people. Once prosecuted, they are also more likely to go to jail.

Arrest records can have a substantial impact on a person’s ability to achieve quality of life, such as eligibility for financial aid, employment or public housing. This can lead to further health deteriorations for Black people.

2) Are all stakeholders identified who should be part of the decision-making process?

A good policy analysis looks at an issue from multiple angles. Will it have the buy-in of community members, enforcement agencies, business owners, property managers, faith leaders, school officials, urban planners and all other parties that the policy will impact?

For instance, liquor licenses are a hot topic in communities, often pitting the economic needs of businesses against the health and safety of residents and other business owners. Overconcentration of alcohol outlets and other types of ‘high risk’ businesses are often found in minority communities, where often, there are those who may not feel they have the political clout to weigh in on decisions or do not have the knowledge on how to do so. Municipalities that include a public comment period can hear from a variety of voices either in support of or against a proposed business license.

3) What parts of society will be impacted by the policy, from populations served (and underserved) to the required infrastructure to implement and enforce the policy? Who will and will not have access to the benefits of the policy?

Policies often have unintended consequences, and decision-makers should take strides to consider as many as possible and have a plan for mitigation. This is also the reason for involving the perspective of a wide range of stakeholders.

4) What inherent biases can undermine a policy?

Bias can lead to blind enforcement of policies that unjustly penalize minorities. Racial profiling, or bias-based policing, is one case. The War on Drugs is another example of a policy that disproportionately targeted African Americans, resulting in soaring arrest rates. These two policies also have the unfortunate consequence of undermining law enforcement efforts to create partnerships with the communities they are assigned to protect.

5) What does the data say about the proposed policy?

Policies should always be evidence-informed. Decision-makers should consider the community conditions and demographics by looking at data, such as the American FactFinder and U.S. Census Bureau.

Moreover, there needs to be transparency and accountability in how decision-makers arrive at policy decisions to give the community confidence that good decisions are being made.

Though centuries of systemic racism institutionalized bias into many policies at national, state and local levels, it is not too late to reverse the trend of one race benefiting while another suffers. This can happen through strategic and in-depth analyses of proposed policies, as well as the buy-in of all stakeholders.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Program and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.

Tramatized Child

Positive Childhood Experiences Can Combat Traumatic Effects of COVID-19

The debate over whether to allow students to return to school is ever present. However, not much has been said about how children are coping with the traumatic effects of this pandemic and what we, as a society, are doing to help them deal with it.

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is causing trauma in ways in which we are not fully aware. Increased levels of anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug misuse are a common theme across the country. Families who live in lower income neighborhoods have been hit the hardest and are especially feeling fear, stress, and uncertainty about their future. This type of trauma is causing toxic stress in adults nationwide and in our local communities and it is being transferred to our children every day.

Children today are essentially feeling the toxic stress of a different type of war and a new adversary that perhaps is even more detrimental than the virus itself. Since governors across the country forced schools to shut down and issued stay-at-home orders, children were confined to their homes. While it seems they would be safer, for many children, especially those living in poverty, this could not be further from the truth.
During times of crisis, stress levels in families tend to rise, making children more susceptible to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as child abuse and domestic violence.

What specifically are ACEs? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood before the age of 18. Among these are experiences of violence, abuse, or neglect. ACEs can cause other problems and disruptions in life such as learning disabilities and alcohol and drug misuse, which can bring chronic disease or serious health complications later in life, including early death.

The CDC reports that ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACEs, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more ACEs. Although it is too early to know the exact numbers, it is safe to say that these numbers will only go up because of the pandemic.

One of the most profound findings of the research on ACEs is that preventing them has the potential to save millions of lives. For example, up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have potentially been avoided by preventing ACEs, according to the CDC.

Although it is disheartening to hear about the number of ACEs reported each year, especially with the potential for increased numbers during COVID-19, the good news is that ACEs can be prevented or countered. More experts are beginning to agree that countering those adverse childhood experiences with positive ones, known as protective factors, is proving to be effective.

In other words, perhaps there is no stronger cure for an adverse childhood experience than a positive childhood experience provided by a caretaker or caring, nurturing adult. More than ever, families, schools, faith-based groups, and community-based organizations need to be aware of this trauma-informed approach. Community advocates need to ensure policies are passed that have impact at community and societal levels, as well as individual and relationship levels.

Brenda Simmons
CEO/President, IPS

Brenda Simmons began her career at IPS in 2003 as a community organizer in San Diego County. She was promoted multiple times before she was elevated to CEO/President in April 2019. She has a broad range of experience working in very conservative rural and frontier communities in Montana, ultra-progressive communities including Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and everything in between. Brenda has been involved in projects ranging in focus from substance abuse prevention to community revitalization to child-sex trafficking. As CEO, Brenda oversees more than a dozen IPS projects in Southern California.

Media Advocacy

Controlling a Media Interview

As seen on GovLoop.

A number of things can happen that will cause a media interview to backfire, but there are ways to avoid having it become a complete disaster.

Any type of public speaking is perhaps one of the most intimidating things that a person can do. As a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that more Americans are scared of public speaking than they are of dying. And it’s no wonder why: any mishap or gaffe can live on in infamy on social media.

When going into a media interview, it helps speakers to have a “hope for the best, expect the worst” mentality. Reporters can intentionally or unintentionally try to trip up an interviewee. After all, it is their job to get to the bottom of a story. Therefore, preparation is key to making sure that everything you say is fair game for the news reporter to include in their broadcast or article.

Here are a few tricky scenarios that reporters may use and solutions on how a spokesperson can handle them.

Scenario 1: They ask questions that stump you.

The reporter asks a question in which you generally do not know the answer. This one easily catches spokespeople off guard and can easily lead to an uncomfortable silence as you scramble through your thoughts on how to best answer it.

Solution: Only tell the reporter what you know, not what you don’t know. If you are not the right person to answer a given question, it’s okay to say so. Offer to connect the reporter with someone who does know the answer.

Scenario 2: They ask you to speculate.

Among tricky questions reporters ask, predicting the future is a popular one. In trying to answer, you may inadvertently escalate a situation unnecessarily, provide incorrect information and be proven wrong.

Solution: As you prepare for your interview, write out two or three key messages, or sound bites, that you want the audience to walk away with. When you are asked this type of tricky question, you have a “transitional” or “bridging” statement prepared that will then lead the audience to your key message. For example, you may say, “That’s a good question and I won’t have a good answer to that until I receive further information (the ‘bridge’), but the most important thing that the public needs to remember right now is ……….. insert key message here.”

Scenario 3: They ask for your opinion.

Conflicts between personal opinion and agency policy can occur. But you have to be careful: Organizations have distanced themselves, often with dire consequences, from numerous public figures and celebrities due to statements that run counter to their values and brand. So you have to remind yourself of who is being asked the question: you as Jane Citizen or Joe Public, or you as the representative of your agency?

Solution: To navigate this question, address the request, create a bridge (have one ready!) and stay vigilant that you don’t say anything that contradicts your organization’s views.

Scenario 4: They ask questions out of left field.

Sometimes a question is asked that, although related to the topic at hand, is irrelevant to the final message that you hope to deliver. It’s the curveball of media interviews.

Solution: You can try to anticipate these questions by putting yourself in the reporter’s shoes and have an answer ready. Or, you can create a bridge and lead the audience to your two to three key messages that you already have prepared.

To summarize, remember these four points:

  • Pause before answering a question. Feel comfortable with silence. Take the time to collect your thoughts. Pauses can always be edited out in post-production if the interview is recorded and not live.
  • Don’t acknowledge points that you might contradict.
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know the answer to a question. But do offer to get back to them if they’d like.
  • Decline or refer questions to someone more knowledgeable if you have to.

Media interviews do not have to be as daunting as you think. A bit of preparation and practice can be the difference between one that succeeds and one that becomes a social media sensation for all the wrong reasons.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Project and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.


Businesses and Public Health: Allies, Not Adversaries

The storyline has been consistent throughout the pandemic: economic and public health interests are fundamentally at odds. The reality is quite different. Business and public health have always been intrinsically connected, with shared mutual interests.

One such interest is having a healthy workforce. Employees that maintain good health are more cooperative and productive. They improve companies’ public personas. Alternatively, if employees are unhealthy, they are more likely to call in sick, costing U.S. businesses $225 billion annually. This has long been a real concern in the U.S., where many workers experience preventable health problems.

Consider the following statistics: about 17% of adults smoke, costing businesses an annual average of more than $5000 per employee in smoking breaks and health costs. About 70% of Americans over 20 years old are overweight or obese, costing businesses well over $4000 per year in additional health care costs. And 25% of Americans 18 years and older had at least one heavy drinking day in the last year, costing businesses an estimated $179 billion annually in lost workplace productivity.

These numbers reveal a significant opportunity. By developing an intentional and strategic focus on health factors for employees, such as stress, excess alcohol consumption, and smoking, businesses could be reducing their expenses and increasing their profits.

A business-health collaboration is not unusual for successful companies. In 2016, Target chose to look outward. As a centerpiece of its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, the company invested $40 million in 50 nonprofit organizations across the U.S. to increase the physical activity and healthy eating habits of children and their families. This type of investment hinges on the premise that healthier American communities are fundamental to the future of all profitable companies.

Such business-health collaborative efforts can happen on a smaller scale. The University of Washington, together with the American Cancer Society and eight employers in the Pacific Northwest, launched a promotional program that encouraged employees to utilize the preventative aspects of their health insurance, such as cancer screening and flu vaccines. The program increased targeted preventive behaviors among employees from 38 to 61 percent.

There are also a growing number of businesses that directly support health and well-being through their products or services. Tech companies excel at this. They create applications that more effectively support exercise, nutritional products and services, and healthy homes and neighborhoods. These social-entrepreneurial businesses could be natural partners for public health organizations, as they are already focusing on improving peoples’ health.

More and more so, business leaders are seeing the importance of health and wellbeing in everything from driving up profits to attracting and retaining talent. Conversely, healthy communities lead to stronger workforces and economies. In other words, business and public health are natural allies. Even a pandemic doesn’t change that.

Eric Collins
Vice President of Programs, IPS

Eric Collins has thrived working in the communications, nonprofit and government sectors for three decades. He rejoined IPS in 2020 as the Vice President of Programs. In earlier roles with the organization, he directed the activities of the Alcohol Policy Panel of San Diego County and served as a project manager on county and federal grants focused on public health and safety, community revitalization, and substance abuse prevention.

GIS in Public Health

The Role of GIS in Public Health

As seen on GovLoop.

Geographic information systems (GIS) answer the question of where: where diseases are prevalent; where vulnerable populations live; and where resources are most needed to improve health conditions. GIS consists of the data, technology and people who answer these questions. And it has never been more relevant than it is today.

In the past year alone, health professionals have used it to address the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid epidemic, vaping-related respiratory illness and other diseases and injuries.  GIS is helping public, private and non-profit organizations make effective and efficient decisions, from collecting data to analyzing it to presenting it in a user-friendly manner.Snow Cholera Map

History of Mapping and Public Health

In the nineteenth century, John Snow was the first to use mapping in epidemiological research. In 1854, London suffered from an outbreak of cholera, and Snow mapped the locations of those stricken by the disease. By looking at where cholera victims lived, he observed a spatial pattern and identified the water source suspected of being responsible for the outbreak. This event marked the founding of epidemiology – the study of patterns, causes and distribution of diseases and health-related events.

This image is of John Snow’s map of cholera cases in London 1854.

Uses in Public Health

GIS benefits public health by:

  • Collecting information. The prevention of disease is paramount in developing healthy individuals and communities. But first, we need to understand what conditions exist that compromise health and safety. Policymakers cannot make evidence-informed decisions without qualitative or quantitative data to back it up. To collect the data, for example, an app can be created in which users report signs of blight in their neighborhood, which municipal agencies can use to prioritize cleanup crews.
  • Analyzing spatial patterns. Instances of disease can be mapped and analyzed to reveal patterns in its distribution, as evident in John Snow’s cholera map. But this just scratches the surface of GIS’ analytical capabilities. For example, you could use a proximity analysis to identify “food deserts” — an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food — in relation to schools or youth-centered establishments to help school districts create policies that make accessible nutrition a priority for students.
  • Allocating resources. You wouldn’t want to build a hospital in an area where there are several others. Nor would you want to deprive a rural community of access to much needed health care. GIS enables planners to figure out the best location for health care services based on the population served.
  • Presenting data in an easy-to-understand way. Most humans are visual beings, and looking at a map or data dashboard compared to reading rows of numbers is a good way to help users understand the distribution of health issues. For instance, it is easier to tell where there are cancer clusters in a region by a heat map than by looking at a spreadsheet.

GIS Tools

No matter which GIS software you use, four basic tools can help any public health professional in their role as a disease-fighting superhero:

  1. Maps — the most basic of GIS tools. It can contain geopolitical layers such as census tracts, zip codes, city council districts or health agency sub-regions. It can include layers of demographic data, such as the number of households that live below the area’s median income. And it can also include health data, such as the percentage of the population with a substance use disorder.
  2. Story maps. As the name implies, they narrate a story in a compelling way with maps, photographs, text, videos and charts.
  3. Crowdsourcing apps. These apps are a great way to collect data in the field by being accessible on a mobile device. The methodology in collecting the data is a good way to encourage people to be active and engaged stakeholders in their community.
  4. Data dashboards. These provide key insights on data. You can combine maps, charts, gauges, lists and text on a single computer screen to present data.

Even with all these tools, the most valuable asset in GIS is the public health professional – the one with the innovation and creativity to collect data, map it, analyze it and present it.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Project, and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.

Equitable Housing

Equitable Housing: A Place-Based Solution to Racism

Since the beginning of 2020, we have become acutely aware of how systemic racism has impacted people of color in America. With far greater percentages of Blacks and Latinx succumbing to COVID-19, the disparities in health and health care among these populations have been laid bare. And with elevated rates of infant mortality, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses among communities of color, some health experts and lawmakers call racism a public health emergency.

This extends to housing. People of color have been forced to live in concentrated poverty areas far more often than their White counterparts. According to a study by the Brookings Institute, poor Blacks were almost five times as likely as poor Whites to live in an extremely poor neighborhood. Poor Latinx were three times as likely.

With fewer social services and limited access to health care, lower-performing schools, and fewer job-seeking networks, most residents of poor neighborhoods get trapped in a cycle of chronic poverty that is often perpetuated through generations.

Aggravated by these conditions, higher rates of crime are also common to such neighborhoods. Police working in extremely poor neighborhoods often live in a completely different area and have little connection with the people they serve. They also have little understanding of implicit bias and the historical racist practices that their agency still upholds. Therefore, in responding to a bad situation, police officers seek only to suppress and return conditions to “normal.” But in a community struggling for the basic necessities of life, America’s normal for people of color is unacceptable.

We need to remember that the frustration and hopelessness expressed by communities of color are not just about police brutality or even chronic poverty. Their origin lies in the systemic racism that has continued to keep Black and other people of color separate – physically and otherwise – from the rest of society and excluded from its benefits.

More than anything else, it was a series of public policies, conceived in an era known as “separate but equal,” that allowed racism to become institutionalized throughout American neighborhoods. It began early in the 20th century when Black Americans migrated from the rural south to cities in the north. Desperate to maintain the status quo, policymakers created zoning codes that specified where Blacks could not live, aggressively funneling them away from white neighborhoods.

Later came the process of redlining, introduced by the Federal Housing Administration in 1934. The agency was created to advance homeownership through loan guarantees, but it explicitly refused to back loans to Black people or even other people who lived near Black people. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed to stop redlining, this behavior still continued through restrictive covenants, discriminatory steering by real estate agents, and restricted access to private capital. All of this has circumvented any investment where Black people and other communities of color live, making their homes and communities a product of racism.

When a specific group of people has been separated by geographical boundaries, as Black people have now for hundreds of years, racial stereotypes grow, eventually becoming entrenched in the culture. Today, Black stereotypes are commonly linked to violence and criminality. We are witness to such beliefs almost daily through movies and cop shows.

However, through social media, we also witness people calling for equity in America. This includes equal access to quality health care and social services, good education, a right to fair representation in law enforcement, and especially a place where home is just as safe for a Black family as it might be for others.

It’s time to rewrite the rules to support affordable housing being built in wealthy neighborhoods. A 2015 Supreme Court ruling made this possible by affirming that the Fair Housing Act could be used to actively promote racial integration. Ensuring that people of color have access to better health care, education, and job opportunities is perhaps the one thing that could make America whole again.

Brenda Simmons
CEO/President, IPS

Brenda Simmons began her career at IPS in 2003 as a community organizer in San Diego County. She was promoted multiple times before she was elevated to CEO/President in April 2019. She has a broad range of experience working in very conservative rural and frontier communities in Montana, ultra-progressive communities including Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and everything in between. Brenda has been involved in projects ranging in focus from substance abuse prevention to community revitalization to child-sex trafficking. As CEO, Brenda oversees more than a dozen IPS projects in Southern California.

GIS Disparities

How GIS Exposed Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in San Diego’s South Bay

As seen on GovLoop.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is playing an important role in helping San Diegans address health inequities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

An Upstream Approach to Substance Use Prevention

The Partnerships 4 Success (P4S) project uses geospatial technology to map conditions in San Diego’s South Bay. This area is known for its diversity and Latino cultural heritage. However, it is also known for its binge and underage drinking along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as methamphetamine use and cross-border juvenile drug smuggling.

The project aims to advance opportunities and policies that create a healthy and vibrant South Bay by reducing substance use. The team does this by addressing the factors that lead to the region’s harmful conditions, specifically among the Latino population.

P4S takes a community-level approach to substance use prevention, because the neighborhood where a person lives often determines if they experience positive or negative health outcomes. It influences their quality of life and even their life expectancy.

Communities of color historically experience greater health disparities than their white counterparts due to factors such as a lack of access to transportation, health care, quality education, housing security and economic opportunity. These communities also may experience more crime, violence, blight and exposure to high-risk businesses such as bars and liquor stores.

Moreover, all these factors are heavily influenced by racism, discrimination and social injustice. They can create what is referred to as community trauma. It is not surprising then that all this toxic stress can lead to a high risk of substance abuse.

Using GIS to Guide Policy Decisions

By using ArcGIS Pro, the P4S team identified the census tracts in the South Bay most in need of intervention by creating a trivariate choropleth map. In laymen’s terms, this is a map that depicts three different data layers in an easy-to-interpret map. The map shows the Hardship Index, Child Opportunity Index and the percentage of the Latino population.

The Hardship Index is a composite of six scores:

  1. Unemployment rate
  2. Dependency (% of the population older than 65 or younger than 18)
  3. Low education attainment (% of those over the age of 25 with less than a high school education)
  4. Per capita income
  5. Housing overcrowding (more than 1 occupant/room)
  6. Poverty level (less than 100% of federal poverty)

The greater the hardship, the darker the color of the census tract on the map.

The Child Opportunity Index is an index that captures neighborhood conditions that matter for children’s healthy development in terms of education, health and environment, and social and economic opportunity. The lower the childhood opportunity, the darker the color of the census tract.

The Hardship Index and Child Opportunity Index were combined into one color scheme. The third data set is the Latino population. The larger the point symbol, the higher the Latino population.

With this GIS map, the P4S team identified two distinct areas in the South Bay where there was low childhood opportunity, high hardship and a significant Latino population where intervention would be most valuable.

Supporting Positive Outcomes 

A core group of experts in public health, social services, education, faith organizations, mental health and government will lead the project and work with these communities to advocate for improved community conditions.

By giving the South Bay the chance for greater health opportunities, the project hopes to build a community where everyone has an equal chance at the type of life they want to live.

Meredith Gibson
Media Director, IPS

Meredith Gibson is the Media Director for the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative, Countywide Media Advocacy Project and Partnerships for Success. She generates news articles to promote awareness of public health issues, collaborates on opinion editorials (op-eds) with community leaders, and pitches ideas and spokespersons to news outlets, amassing media coverage at the local and national levels.

Grocery Worker

Essential Workers Risk their Lives and We Benefit. What Can We Do in Return?

COVID-19 has made it clear that many of our cities have built their communities along the same racial and economic divide that has disadvantaged communities of color for centuries. And yet, these same communities of color house our essential workers. There live our grocers, truck drivers, custodians, meat packers, and other unsung heroes. They are risking their lives, and their families’ lives, when they enter their work place every day.

Those who benefit must consider this question: Do our essential workers have the resources they need to cope with the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on their communities? Do we care enough?

The answer to both questions, unfortunately, is no.

In San Diego, the communities in the South region – where 78% of the county’s minority residents live  — have the highest rates of infection. Health officials are seeing similar trends in cities like New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles. It is clear that the virus is disproportionately affecting black Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans in the US.

These statistics are a reflection of society’s inherently racist infrastructure. The infection rates highlight the inequities that these communities face nationwide. And as COVID-19 spreads, our nation’s health disparities are simultaneously exposed and worsened.

Officials all over the country are demanding that testing sites be placed in infection hot spots. And while getting more testing nationwide is crucial to reducing our COVID-19 numbers, the reality is that our communities of color are more susceptible to the virus because of the environmental conditions they live in.

Public health officials directly correlate physical health with many environmental factors. Neighborhoods riddled with poor air quality, broken or missing sidewalks, no safe green spaces, and a lack of grocery stores make residents susceptible to poor health. Additionally, the combination of low living wages and poor access to health care or healthcare services contributes to the likelihood of a person deciding to skip a doctor’s visit – and its co-payment – to buy food for the week.

These social and environmental circumstances are the reason why chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and advanced stages of cancer are much more rampant in communities of color. Further, all of these conditions make a virus like COVID-19 far deadlier. And yet, we continue to ask our essential workers living in underserved communities to show up to work every day despite the augmented risk. Because without them, our society crumbles.

The truth of the matter is that our essential workers are living in places where their zip code has a greater impact on their lives than their genetic code. And this needs to change. These communities are the backbone of our country. They are our essential communities.

Where do we go from here? What can we do to help the essential workers who risk their lives every day for our benefit? We can support the change that’s underway. Counties all over the nation accelerate their funding to programs that provide bilingual assistance to all those navigating the county’s system for relief resources. We can demand the same from our elected officials. We can demand that more resources flow to disadvantaged neighborhoods, not just during this time of crisis. We need to take advantage of this momentum and ensure these programs continue on, even after COVID-19.

Programs like these are the foundation needed to keep working families sheltered, fed, and connected. They help ensure our essential workers and their communities stay healthy enough to protect us.

We owe them that much.

Breny Aceituno
Prevention Specialist, IPS

Breny Aceituno is a Prevention Specialist for Partnerships for Success, a program that aims to disarm the health disparities present in Latino communities living near the San Diego border. Breny graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in Political Science. She earned a master’s degree in Conflict Management from the University of Haifa in Israel. Breny considers herself a life-long learner who is driven by the actionable accountable measures that can improve our communities.