A major new report outlines the important challenges facing the Wimauma community and specifies plans to tackle the issues, which range from affordable housing to health-care access.
“Wimauma Voices 2014” is the result of more than 400 interviews, and took almost a year to complete sampling resident opinions through surveys, focus groups and workshops.
The 90-page report identifies the six key issues facing the community as: public safety, reliable transportation, affordable housing, access to health care, educational resources and recreational venues for children and families.
“I’ve rarely seen a report this extensive in most communities. It’s really pretty remarkable,” said Eileen Boyle, president of Allegany Franciscan Ministries, which funded the project. She termed the report “groundbreaking.”
“What is really significant is that it comes from the community’s perspective as opposed to just collecting data,” Boyle said. “Wimauma has been largely ignored in Hillsborough County, so this report is significant and the work that is being done there is important because it will draw attention to the community.”
Boyle said the report will be a boon for everyone from county government to the business sector trying to understand the community.
The voluminous information was gathered by the Hispanic Services Council and the University of South Florida as part of a three-year Bridges to Health initiative that addresses health disparities in the community and is also funded by the Allegany Franciscan Ministries.
The Hispanic Services Council is a community organization committed to improving the quality of life in Hillsborough County by increasing access and opportunities for Latinos in the areas of education, health, wealth and civic engagement.
In 2007, in partnership with the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Hispanic Services Council conducted a multiyear initiative to address issues of academic success among South County children.
“Our work with individual families living in Wimauma, one of the target communities, revealed the challenges that an overwhelming number of families affected by chronic illnesses and lack of access to quality medical care were facing,” the report said.
A review of the challenges faced by Wimauma families led to the creation of the Bridges to Health initiative in 2012. The initiative is staffed by a three-member Hispanic Services Council team and led by a 45-member residents group.
“The community assessment project activities were conducted with the assistance of a research consultant, supported by members of the University of South Florida Latino Style Research project and the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and the University of South Florida School of Social Work,” according to the report.
Among the report’s findings are:
• Mobility is a barrier, public transportation is insufficient, medical transportation is unreliable and the cost of private transportation services are beyond burdensome.
• People don’t get what they pay for in housing; the cost is high and the quality is less than desirable. Access to health care for those with chronic illnesses is challenging, and local resources lack the capacity to meet the needs.
• Educational opportunities for youth and adults are important to Wimauma residents but insufficient to meet the aspirations of its people. Too many parents don’t have options for their children’s education, existing public parks are closed, and children and families have limited opportunities for childcare before or after school.
• Vulnerable residents with limited options are relegated to work for employers who take advantage of their situation, while convenience stores sell unhealthy and expired food at high prices.
• Safety is uppermost in the minds of residents where walking down the streets can present a threat to almost everyone, particularly women, children and young girls. Too often, and in too many areas, children must walk long distances along unlit, unpaved, dangerous roads without sidewalks, to catch a bus for school or to get to the nearest store.
Among the recommendations of the plan are:
• Data to Drive Community Change: Develop a Health Equity Index to advance understanding of the social determinants of health and their correlation with community health outcomes.
• Healthy Places. Healthy People: Implement basic quality improvements to the environment to increase the safety and “walkability” of neighborhood streets, provide access to public parks. Increase access to and quality of services offered by public and private institutions that provide educational, health care and social and community services and provide affordable housing.
• Rights and Resources: With the input of the local community, design and implement a culturally and linguistically appropriate community outreach and education campaign to increase the health literacy of residents.
• Increase Access to Health Care: With 54 percent of residents reported having no insurance coverage, the report recommends establishing a community health promotion and navigation model program that trains residents who represent the diversity of the community (culturally and linguistically) to provide basic health, education, screening, personal care management and navigation, support alternative transportation strategies and invest in a high quality and comprehensive medical care facility.
Now and Future
What the report’s authors learned about Wimauma:
• Wimauma is a community of concerned people who care deeply about their neighborhood. People are hopeful and believe that they can make a difference and improve the quality of life in their community.
• There is a sense of community. People know each other and interact, help each other and contribute generously to the community through their local churches.
• Wimauma residents are talented and generous people who are willing to share whatever they have for the benefit of the common good.
• Young people in Wimauma are bursting with creative energy waiting to be harnessed.
• Wimauma residents aspire for more than what has been made available to them, and they are open and willing to learn from one another and to work together to make Wimauma a great place for everyone.
• Wimauma is rich with untapped bountiful natural resources and unique cultural places on the highway and off the beaten path that can be a source of enjoyment for all.
Wimauma: a community profile
Wimauma occupies 25 square miles and has a population of 6,373, according to the U.S. Census.
The population is predominantly Latino, 73.4 percent, among the highest in the county, and is 18.8 percent white and 6.2 percent African-Americans.
Among its residents, 25.7 percent are foreign-born, and 57.6 percent speak a language other than English, compared with 27.3 percent in Florida overall.
Among residents 25 and older, 50 percent graduated high school and 3.6 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26.2 percent in Florida overall.
Reports indicate that 37.4 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and in 2011 had a per capita income of $12,296, less than half Hillsborough County’s average of $26,733.
The leading industries in Wimauma are agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining, 20 percent; educational, health and social services, 12 percent; and construction, 9 percent.
Although large in land area, the community has limited opportunities to access basic public services. Currently there are three major government facilities, which include a fire station, senior center and one recreation center.
There are two elementary schools that serve the area’s school-aged population of 1,200.
The community has access to one privately owned and managed health clinic that provides affordable medical services to the population’s low-income community.
Three major nonprofit groups provide human services to residents and offer programs to serve the area’s large migrant farmworker community.
Faith-based organizations have a significant presence in the community, anchored by the camp established by the Church of God in the early 1800s. There are 12 Protestant churches and one Catholic mission and parish.
Source: Hispanic Services Council