Tag Archive for: institute for public strategies

Is the Business of America Really Business? Or Should it Benefit All of Society?

The business of America is business. That famous quote is attributed to President Calvin Coolidge and has held sway over our culture and our national policy for more than a century. Interrupted only by World War II and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, it picked up steam in the 1980s with globalization when the interests of corporate America once again became predominant. It left concerns about public health and social justice in the dust.

Certainly, some have benefited from this single-minded focus. But the truth is, most have not. For it has resulted in an ever-widening gap between rich and poor and a shrinking middle class. Since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, the share of wealth owned by those in the upper-income level has increased from 60% to 79%, while the share owned by the middle and lower classes dropped from 32% to 17% and from 7% to 4%, respectively.

We need to understand something here. We’re not just talking about economics. Those on the wrong side of the wealth gap are suffering much more than a decline in prosperity. For them, it’s a matter of life and death. According to a study from Harvard University, poverty in America can mean substantial reductions in how long a person will live. The difference is much greater than “the two or three years you might expect,” the researchers say. It could be as many as 10 or 15 years. The average lifespan of the poorest Americans is equal to that in Sudan or Pakistan.

It’s well known that poverty affects physical health. Higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are all leading causes of death that have been noted in low-income and minority communities. Infectious diseases are also more prevalent, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more victims living in poor or overcrowded housing. However, the impact such conditions have on mental health has proved to be even more devastating.

Imagine waking up daily in a neighborhood with dilapidated buildings, graffiti painted on every wall, trash strewn along the sidewalks, people hanging around street corners dealing drugs, and gunshots ringing out on a nightly basis. Often it would be a low-lying area, so there would be no breeze. On hot days, such as with our recent heat wave, the asphalt would soak up the sunlight, dramatically increasing the temperature. There would be no parks and little green space. Heavy industry would be nearby with pollutants lingering in the air. It would sometimes be hard to breathe. Healthcare facilities would be scarce. There would be no markets selling fresh fruits or vegetables, just convenience stores with inflated prices.

How would any of us feel living in such conditions? Angry? Frustrated? Depressed? Suicidal? The answer is all the above. According to mental health experts, inadequate housing, poor nutrition, exposure to violence and crime, and lack of healthcare are all linked to mental illness. Combined with environmental stresses such as pollution, temperature extremes, and challenging sleep environments, they inevitably lead to higher rates of depressive disorders, anxiety, psychological distress, and suicide.

Moreover, if nothing is done, the problem is likely to get worse. Studies on intergenerational wealth show that when wealth is concentrated at the top, there will be less economic mobility. This means that as the gap in wealth gets wider, low-income families will have less and less chance of pulling themselves out of poverty. So, you get a winner-take-all system in which the very few accumulate vast fortunes, and the rest are left behind, permanently stuck in a vicious cycle of hopelessness, ill health, and early death.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In Europe both rich and poor enjoy a similar span of life, and each lives longer than their counterparts in America. The solutions are simple enough, and we are familiar with them all. They include increased access to better housing, health care, and education; financial literacy and job training; higher minimum wages and a host of other common-sense policies such as treating substance misuse as an illness rather than a crime.

First, we need to change our mindset. By buying into the zero-sum game of Corporate America, we have seen our country divided into winners and losers, a state of affairs that is neither fair nor sustainable. We need to adopt a new attitude, one that balances the interests of big business with our obligation to preserve the health and welfare of the general population. With this as a guiding principle, we should be able to retool our economic system so that it promotes widespread prosperity, benefiting all segments of society, not just the highest earners.


–IPS Editorial Board

“Unity in the Community” Mural is Unveiled

The six-year project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, demonstrates the value of public art to community health

SAN DIEGO, April 2023 – On Saturday, March 25, residents and city leaders gathered at Teralta Neighborhood Park in San Diego for the official unveiling of a 270-foot mural depicting the City Heights neighborhood. The project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, the Global Institute for Public Strategies, was the culmination of six years’ work and was designed with beautification, health, and safety in mind.

“The mural intentionally reflects City Heights’ diversity, aspirations, harmony, landmarks, and progress,” said IPS-affiliate and volunteer manager of the project, Dan Tomsky. “Subsequently, this beautiful mural has increased pride and ownership so that residents feel they can actively recreate in Teralta Neighborhood Park.”

Ideas for the mural’s content were sourced from within the City Heights community and are reflected in choices like the inclusion of the mural’s title, “Unity in the Community,” in both Vietnamese and Somali—languages familiar to the neighborhood’s residents and families. It showcases the faces of community members, institutions, and schools, and even the park’s dog-friendly policies to remind park visitors that Teralta is part of a broader community.

The buy-in of community members was essential to creating and sustaining the impact of projects that improve conditions. This is made clear through the passion and enthusiasm of local advocates like Maria Cortez, a decades-long resident, schoolteacher, and key advocate for the mural.

“We are in an underserved community,” said Cortez. “Projects like public murals remind residents that they deserve safe, healthy, and clean public environments.”

Teralta is one of the few outdoor spaces in City Heights and has a history of litter, graffiti, petty crime, and gang activity. City Heights residents eventually adopted a comprehensive approach to addressing the problems, including with Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach to crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design. CPTED can also encompass public art. Research increasingly shows arts and culture can provide communities with a sense of self-efficacy, emotional and social engagement, expression, and true stakes in their environment.

City Heights residents familiar with Teralta Neighborhood Park desired a mural in order to transform its blank sound wall – frequently tagged with gang-related and other graffiti – into an uplifting art amenity. With the support of the Parks and Recreation area manager for City Heights, the community embraced a mural project as an integral part of a comprehensive CPTED-based initiative that already was favorably impacting the park.

On one end of the Teralta Park mural, there sits a bright orange and red bird — a Phoenix — meant to symbolize revitalization, resilience, and a new birth for the park. This is the message Cortez wants her community to understand and embody: “We want to show that we matter, and that the youth matter.”

Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

How the “Housing Theory of Everything” Can Help Explain Alcohol and Other Drug Problems

Up until the 1980s, common knowledge held that preventing addiction to substances, be they narcotic drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, were issues to be dealt with at the individual level through education and grounded in a moralistic knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Since then, attitudes about how to prevent drug and alcohol misuse have been scaled up, no longer focusing on the individual, but instead, on the community, in what has come to be known as “upstream prevention.”

This strategy seeks solutions that address a plurality of root causes that lead to alcohol and drug disorders. A great example of such a pluralistic root cause for substance use disorders is an unfortunately common issue throughout the U.S.: housing insecurity.

The “housing theory of everything” is a phenomenon that implies the U.S.’ housing shortage contributes to a broad range of societal problems such as inequality, climate change, disease, and stagnant population growth. A case can also be made for throwing substance use disorders into the mix as a consequence of the nation’s housing shortage.

Housing as a basic need

Housing is a fundamental necessity of human health, fulfilling both physiological and safety needs. However, the U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis, in large part because housing development hasn’t kept up at the same pace as population and job growth.

This is especially true in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Last year, approximately 20% of the U.S. population reported they were very likely facing foreclosure, and 14% likely facing eviction.

When individuals become unsheltered or are facing some type of housing insecurity, stress and anxiety can be dramatically exacerbated. This is due in part to the ripple effects of not having a stable and secure place to eat or sleep.

For example, individuals experiencing homelessness may find it difficult or near impossible to secure a job, as employers often require a stable address for employment. Similarly, things like physical and mental hygiene become difficult, if not impossible, to attend to when housing is not immediately available.

These compounding issues have a cascading effect on health and well-being and can lead to self-medication with drugs and alcohol.

“The Housing Theory of Everything”

Are substance use disorders a cause or an effect of housing insecurity? On this, experts disagree. But what we do know is that there is a strong association between housing insecurity and poor mental health, thus supporting the theory that one’s housing situation is determinative of a range of health outcomes.

Whether it is struggling with the anxiety of rising housing costs, an inability to pay rent, or uncertainty about where the next meal and place to sleep will be, many Americans are turning to common coping mechanisms: drugs and alcohol.

And as consumption of these substances increases, so do poor health outcomes as suggested by increases in healthcare costs to treat substance-related diseases, emergency department costs, alcohol-related traffic fatalities, and domestic violence.

This last fallout from alcohol and drugs – domestic violence – concerns many housing advocates. Approximately 80% of homeless mothers with children are victims of domestic violence. Many victims flee their abuser with scant economic resources, little family support, or no solid place to land.

Housing as a stabilizing factor toward mental health

Providing housing that is safe, clean, affordable, and accessible doesn’t completely solve the entire homelessness crisis, but is a good first start. When a basic need like housing is met, we can start to see a general decrease in self-medicating habits, as well as a greater community impact through less burdensome social services.

The State of California has enacted legislation that commits over half a billion dollars to housing and services for individuals struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. This effort is a fundamental starting point for addressing the link between housing and substance use, providing treatment beds for over 1,000 Californians experiencing homelessness.

However, programs like this fall short by treating housing insecurity as the result, rather than the cause, of substance misuse. Instead, we need to focus efforts toward programs aiming to thwart housing insecurity at its root. By providing stability and security, we can eliminate many of the anxieties that contribute to substance use disorders, and we can make a meaningful difference.


Michael Pesavento
Media Advocacy Specialist

Michael Pesavento is a Media Advocacy Specialist in the San Diego County office. He serves on the Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative that aims to reduce harms and responsibly regulate drug and alcohol usage in the San Diego area.

IPS Expands Tobacco Prevention Efforts

Agency awarded two new grants from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

LOS ANGELES, December 2022 – The Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) announced it has been awarded two grants from the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health to develop and implement comprehensive smoke-free policies for outdoor areas and in multi-unit housing. These grants from the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, Tobacco Control and Prevention Program will be implemented in four cities within LA County – Whittier, Pico Rivera, Montebello, and Alhambra. Since 2020, IPS has also led a multi-unit housing tobacco prevention project in the City of Los Angeles.

“We are excited to expand our tobacco prevention work in LA with these initiatives, as we increase the wellbeing of residents in these additional communities,” IPS Director of Tobacco Programs Maurina Cintron said. “We will also rely on the help from community members to achieve these goals.”

One of the new contracts will focus on advancing policy solutions that address drifting secondhand smoke in outdoor communal areas in Montebello and Whittier. The primary focus will be on preventing smoking at bus stops, ticket lines, ATMs, taxi stands and within 25 feet of where smoking is currently outlawed. These areas will also include outdoor dining areas, public events like farmers markets, fairs, swap meets and concerts, recreational areas, golf courses, playgrounds, parks, sidewalks, parking lots, bike lanes, alleys and work sites. Smoking is defined as inhaling, exhaling or burning tobacco, cannabis or any other plant product including synthetics, whether by burning or vaping.

The second new contract will concentrate on policy solutions that prevent exposure to tobacco and cannabis smoke in multi-unit residences in Alhambra and Pico Rivera. In these two cities, IPS will help reduce and eliminate drifting secondhand and thirdhand smoke in individual units, balconies, patios, porches, decks, common areas, hallways and laundry rooms.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and disability in the United States, resulting in over 480,000 deaths each year, including deaths from secondhand smoke. In LA County, smoking causes one in every seven deaths, and approximately $4.3 billion dollars are lost due to smoking-related diseases and deaths each year. The leading causes of smoking related deaths are lung cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD) and chronic airway obstruction.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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