WINTER HAVEN — Brian McDaniel isn’t exactly Lovin’ It. But he’s doing it.
The 30-year-old Lakelander has five kids and a common-law wife. When The Ledger first visited with McDaniel early this year, he had two cooking jobs—one during the day at Arby’s on Memorial Boulevard in the heart of Lakeland and the other at night at the McDonald’s at Combee Road and U.S. 92. He’s since quit McDonald’s, but he’s still working two jobs, having applied through a temp agency to get picked up as a box maker for $275 a week at Whitlock Packaging Corp. in Lakeland.
LAKELAND – While temporarily homeless during her first pregnancy, Ashley McMillian struggled to get on Medicaid, a federal-state health program people assume is always there for pregnant women and kids.
It took someone at the Florida Department of Health to get the right forms filled in for her to start getting Medicaid-covered prenatal care in her fourth or fifth month.
That was 12 years ago.
Since then, she and her husband have gone through being unemployed, working full time, being on and off Medicaid for health care, as well as on and off Medicaid “share of cost.”
LAKELAND – Meagan Wernholm’s expressive face reflects pure joy as she flies back and forth on her backyard swing. Comforted by the rhythmic movement, she sometimes spends hours this way, to the relief of her mother, who never is very far away.
Because of her autism, Meagan, 11, requires more attention than most children her age. Her mother, Soundra Wernholm, says she hasn’t held a job since giving birth to her youngest child.
FORT MEADE – Willie Mae Lewis can see the former Valu King store from her front door.
“I could just walk over there and get what I needed,” the 80-year-old Fort Meade native said. “I don’t drive, so having that store so close made it easy for me. It was a bad day when that store closed down.”
LAKELAND – A bolt of lightning did more than trigger a house fire.
Damage caused by fire and smoke in the aftermath of an Aug. 23 storm forced Geraldine Smith, 63, and her partner, Fred Humphrey, 55, into homelessness. Their tiny, wood-frame home, dating to 1952, already was in shambles. No insurance company would touch it, the couple said.
If not for monetary assistance from the Red Cross and relatives, the couple said they would be on the streets. Instead, they spent the better part of a week at a Howard Johnson motel, worrying about the future. They said their home was paid for, but it’s not worth repairing.
LAKE WALES – Angel Martinez longs to see a movie with her friends, and to have a room of her own.
“I’d decorate it how I want,” she said, “with the colors of the sky.”
Instead, she lives in a cramped two-bedroom mobile home near Lake Wales with her parents, her sister and her brother. Worn carpet camouflages the holes in the weakened floor. Lights in the kitchen haven’t worked in weeks.
BARTOW – In hundreds of mobile homes across Polk County, struggling families are trying to survive in squalid conditions.
There’s Maria, a migrant worker who lives in a run-down travel trailer with her husband and two young sons, and is grateful the air-conditioning works. She’s one of the lucky ones, she said, despite the cramped conditions in her home.
LAKELAND — They’ve always done everything together, from living as a family to sleeping where a Dumpster was supposed to be located at a nearby restaurant to moving into a homeless shelter.
Through thin and thinner, Christy Butler, 37; Vicky Butler, 34; and Carol Tayburn, 31, always stick together.
During their stay at Talbot House, a homeless shelter at 814 N. Kentucky Ave. just north of downtown Lakeland, they ate together, slept together and did their cleaning chores together. They’re inseparable.
LAKELAND – A litany of physical ailments keeps Jon Helwig from working a full-time job and contributes, in large part, to his being homeless for several years.
Along with diabetes, he has chronic obstructive lung disease, arthritis, allergies, anxiety, depression and past heart issues.
He’s applied for disability and hopes it gets approved, but home, right now, is the woods for Helwig, 52, and the woman he said he hopes to marry if they can ever afford it.
Programs ranging from federal-state sponsored Medicaid and Florida KidCare to services provided by Polk County’s half-cent indigent care sales tax offer some help for people who can’t afford traditional health insurance
Through the half-cent sales tax, the county has Polk HealthCare Plan, which involves all five hospitals and doctors who take the plan’s rates. It provides some financial help to volunteer clinics, the Florida Department of Health, Lakeland Regional Health’s family clinic, Central Florida Health Care and mental health-substance abuse treatment programs.