Signs of hope

Officials share data on pros, cons in east Gainesville

Shaney Livingston, director of the Alachua County Library District, left, talks with Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Doug Finger/ Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.

In its five years of operation, Library Partnership has become a model for efficiency by providing residents with one-stop access to services provided by more than 40 local agencies as well as a full-service library.

And at "Building Hope in Northeast Gainesville," community leaders and dignitaries from the Florida Department of Children and Families and Casey Family Programs gathered to celebrate the successes and to brainstorm ways to address the safety, health and well-being of children and families in the community, especially those living in the 32601, 32609 and 32641 zip codes, which they said have some of the highest concentration of children living in poverty.

Sponsored by Partnership for Strong Families in collaboration with Casey Family Programs and held last Thursday at Library Partnership, "Building Hope" drew about 80 community leaders and leaders of welfare groups, including Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families and Marva Hammons, executive vice president of Child and Family Services at Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation with a goal to improve the life of children in foster care.

Jacobo and Hammons praised Library Partnership for its success in bringing partners together to serve residents.

"This is the solution: collaboration and integration and the will of the people to make it happen," said Jacobo. "There is a hunger and need for more of this across the state."

"This community is making the kind of change together this nation should look at as model," Hammons said.

"Looking at data is a great way to see disparities and look at where we go next," said Shawn Salamida, CEO of Partnership for Strong Families, who provided a report card that showed gains and needs in the area within the 32601, 32609 and 32641 zip codes. They are:

* In 2009, there were 91 children residing in out-of-home care because of abuse or neglect, but in 2012, that number decreased to 25.

* Gainesville Police Department responses to domestic violence increased 25 percent from 2009-2012, with 776 calls in 2009 and 972 calls in 2012.

* Twenty-one percent of Alachua County's population resides in these zip codes, but 34 percent of clients receiving mental health and substance abuse services through Meridian Healthcare lives within these same zip codes.

* In 2009, there were 7,657 children and adults receiving Medicaid assistance, and in 2013, the number increased 40 percent, to 10,782.

* Compared to 15 percent statewide, 45 percent of individuals residing in zip code 32601 live below the poverty line, with 26 percent in the 32609 zip code and 27 percent in the 32641 zip code.

* The unemployment rate in the 32641 zip code is 17.2 percent, 12.3 percent in 32609 and 7.1 percent in 32601. The unemployment rate for Alachua County is 7.2 percent and it is 7.1 percent in Florida and 7.6 percent in the nation.

* Graduation rates have increased from 55.87 percent in 2009 to 68.68 percent in 2012, but there is a disparity along poverty lines. Children receiving free and reduced lunch at Buchholz High School are 19.45 percent less likely to graduate than their peers, in comparison to 9.87 percent at Gainesville High School and 9.56 percent at Eastside High School.

"Progress has been made, but we need to do more," Salamida said. "We need to continue to impact the lives of children to ensure they have hope in the future."

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