The residents at Wedgewood Village Apartments are stepping up and taking charge.
Residents of Wedgewood had been dealing with a long list of problems, ranging from bed bugs and water back ups, to unsupervised children and major safety concerns.
Many of the issues stemmed from the fact that a huge portion of Wedgewood residents are recent immigrants and were unfamiliar with the American ways of life.
The bed bugs came from using mattresses picked up on streets and in alleys. The back ups came from pouring large amounts of cooking oil down kitchen sinks.
When Dru Bagley, a Greater Hilltop Area Commissioner and co-chair of the Westside Community Health Advisory, heard about the gamut of problems within the complex, she knew something had to be done.
“The management at Wedgewood has been good about trying to address the issues, however, not to the residents’ satisfaction,” said Bagley.
Bagley held a meeting with the executive director and the management at Wedgewood.
“They’re really trying to address the issues. When they said I could step in, I just ran with it,” she added.
Wedgewood Village Apartments is home to 764 families. Those families consist of several different cultures, the largest majority being Somali and Somali Bantu. Others include American Indian, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, African-American and Caucasian.
This diversity among residents creates several barriers that can be difficult to cross. Language barriers cause the most problems within the complex.
Bagley felt the area needed something to bring the residents together and help them work as a team.
According to the guidelines put in place by Housing Urban Development (HUD), a complex such as Wedgewood is required to have a resident council, but for some reason, that council was never formed.
It has been now.
Bagley, with help from African Refugee Education Cultural Service (ARECS), and two volunteers from the Legal Aide Society of Columbus, held meetings with Wedgewood residents. To help with the language barrier issues, separate meetings were held for English speaking residents, Somali residents, and Somali Bantu residents.
Residents used these meetings to speak their minds. They talked about what issues they have with the area and their ideas to address the problems.
Not only is a health a major concern with the area, but crime is also a problem.
According to Bagley, the area has seen several vehicle break-ins, shootings and some prostitution, although Wedgewood does employ its own security.
Residents expressed concern that they were unsure when the police should be notified, and when a call to the complex security would be sufficient.
“We needed to afford the new Americans the tools that they need,” Bagley said.
The best way to do this was to form the resident council.
The resident Council, elected on Jan. 19, consists of 21 residents. Bagley says that the council is representative of the population with Wedgewood.
“It’s a way to help them become a part of the community. It will help show them that they still have to conform to the rules and regulations of the city,” she said.
“The council is not just for the new Americans,” she added, “it’s for everyone in the complex.
The council is now considered a legal entity and is recognized by HUD.
Bagley will now work with the council to teach them the proper way to hold a meeting, and how to reach out the the residents.
Columbus Division of Police Officer Liaison Brian Smith is also working with the residents.
There are currently discussions of forming block watches for the area.
“I just didn’t want to create this and not help them in the process. I want to succeed,” she said.
After a brief period of instruction, however, Bagley says her involvement with Wedgewood will be limited.
“We gave them the tools so they can be self-sufficient, and now they can be up and running on their own.”