Homer Sweet Home

[Healthy Homer and his team]

POCATELLO - The world's gone bonkers for mascots. Baseball, basketball and football teams have them. So do breakfast cereals, fast-food joints and Fortune 500 corporations. Even NASA has a mascot. Like cinnamon on warm, buttered toast, in some mysterious way they seem to make things we might like even more attractive.

Something not so easy to do for lead-based paint. For thousands of years it's been sprayed, splashed and spread on the walls of almost every building we've built, favored because it dries faster, lasts longer, holds color better and protects against moisture. Fine qualities all.

Except. . .

. . .That what's good for buildings isn't necessarily so for their inhabitants. That's especially true for buildings with lead-based paint. Lead's highly toxic especially in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, nerves and blood. Lead may also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases, death. Some symptoms of lead poisoning may include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, fatigue and irritability.

Lead-based paint is so great a risk - "We have no more important mission than protecting children from the potentially dangerous lead," says HUD Secretary Carson - that the United States banned the use of lead-based paint in the construction or rehabilitation of residential properties in 1978.

It was a huge step, but addressed only a part of the problem, one that remains as evidenced by the estimated 30 million homes built in the United States before 1978. Many of them have coats of lead paint on their walls and fixtures.

That's certainly the case in Pocatello, a city of some 54,000 residents in eastern Idaho. Founded in 1890 it has one of the state's oldest housing stocks. Some 9,000 owner-occupied units and 5,100 rental units - or about two-thirds of its entire housing inventory - were built before 1980. More than 1,300 of them, the City of Pocatello, have children living in them, children at potential risk of lead poisoning.

That's the challenge facing Healthy Homer - yep, a mascot - and his team at the City of Pocatello's Lead Safe and Healthy Homes Program. They're no strangers to the issue. The City's HUD-funded housing rehabilitation program regularly checks for lead paint. In collaboration with NeighborWorks it has offered training to local contractors to become certified EPA testers. And it has conducted extensive outreach.

The biggest boost to their efforts came when he City won an almost $1.5 million HUD Lead Paint Hazard Reduction grant, the first Idaho city to do so. Over the next three years the City expects to make the homes of at least 82 income-eligible families lead-safe and do it for free. "We're getting our homes healthy again," the City's Janae Mitchell told The Idaho State Journal.

And just a few months after the program's launch, Healthy Homer and his team already have certified their first "lead-safe" house , a single-story house built in 1929 on East Sublette Street near downtown owned by Josh and Aly Potter. Parents of two - Sylus and Isla - they're very, very happy.

"It means so much that we have the reassurance that our kids are safe in the home," said Aly. Had the City not "picked up the bill," Josh told Local News 8, "we couldn't have done it otherwise. I'm so grateful to the City" for "coming in, stepping up and helping out the people that live in this town."

Lead is "one of those things that people don't ever think about," the City's Mitchell told The Journal. Thanks to the Potters, the City and, of course, Healthy Homer, Pocatellans are thinking about it now.

Ten more families already in line for help. More are sure to follow. Just look in the eyes of kids when they meet Healthy Homer. Like cinnamon on toast, Healthy Homer instantly transforms lead paint from something to fear into something to do something about.

Make the kids believers and the moms and dads won't be far behind.


Content Archived: January 30, 2020