All agree: Youth workers needed

April 27, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI

The number of youth and street workers is inadequate to reach out to the significant number of youths at risk, according to a resolution calling for the hiring of 300 more street workers in Boston proposed last month by City Councilor Charles Yancey.

This summer, the Egleston Square YMCA on Washington Street is expanding its youth programming and hours to help strengthen the community’s ongoing efforts to curb youth violence in the city, according to Kelley Rice, spokesperson for the Greater Boston YMCA.

In other efforts to promote opportunities for youths, the United Youth and Youth Workers of Boston (UYYWB) has called for an additional $8 million in funding in this year’s budget for youth programs such as summer jobs, community organizations and hiring more street workers. UYYWB is a collaboration of people who represent over 93 local and citywide youth leadership teams and youth workers.

This year’s proposed city budget includes a $6.9 million increase for the Boston Police Department (BPD), $34.5 million increase for Boston Public Schools (BPS) and a $444,269 increase for youth jobs, grants for youth organizations and street workers. This reflects what the mayor says is his commitment of an increased $300,000 a year to the Boston Youth Fund. It also proposes to increase the number of street workers—funded through the Boston Center for Youth and Families—from 24 to 30.

There are a number of programs that work with the city to organize and run programs for youths but operate within their own budgets, independent of city dollars, such a the YMCA and the Action for Boston Community Development.

“There are no simplistic answers,” said Mayor Thomas Menino in a Gazette interview, referring to trying to generate unlimited opportunities for youths from a pool of limited resources and funding. “It’s quite complicated.”

So far this year, there have been a number of youth-related shootings in public places such as T stations or on buses. This includes a 70 percent rise in homicides compared to this time last year, according to a press release from the UYYWB.

However, according to the BPD, from Jan. 1 to April 22, there were 33 fewer fatal and non-fatal shootings in 2007 than in 2006. Those numbers do not give a breakdown of the shooters’ or victims’ ages.

“Street workers are on the street and they are supposed to know the players and who’s on the street,” said Kate Johnsen Meuneir of UYYWB. “They are a link between the community center and the police.”

Egleston YMCA
The Egleston YMCA’s new “Get Summer” program offers activities such as basketball; dance classes; poetry slams; computer labs; and youth fitness by extending its hours for teens ages 12-15, Thursday through Monday nights, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

According to Rice, after a series of meetings with Sgt. Michael O’Connor of the BPD, the problem of a lack of opportunities for kids around the ages of 12-15 was made clear.

Rice said kids that age are too young to get a job, but may also feel they are a bit too mature for other programs offered by the YMCA.

“These are kids that are usually just hanging around,” she said.

According to a Greater Boston YMCA press release, last year, according to the BPD, 44 percent of the city’s 140 fatal and non-fatal shootings occurred between 8 p.m. and midnight.

“The BPD really identified nights and weekends as a time with less opportunities for kids,” said Rice.

Rice said O’Connor told the YMCA it would be great if it could develop a program aimed at creating fun programs for teens during the summertime nights and weekends.

O’Connor did not respond to Gazette requests for comment through the BPD’s media relations department.

The extended programming will be funded through a variety of sources, anchored by private philanthropic dollars, Rice said. Or, she said, the YMCA would fund the initiative internally.

According to Rice, 50 percent of the kids who participate in the program will be referred to it by Boston Police officers.

“Officers will identify kids in the community who look like they may be on the bubble and say, ‘Maybe if that kid stayed away from a negative influence, they would be better off,’” Rice said. “The officer will direct the kid to the program.”

“We’re certainly excited about it,” said Rice. “I think there is a pent up demand for that age group. [The Greater Boston YMCA would] like to do [its] part as the largest special organization in the city to help.”

United Youth and Youth Workers of
Boston

The UYYWB gathered at City Hall April 9 to ask for increased funding to create more summer jobs and programs for youths and to increase the amount of street workers to 50. There are two street workers assigned to JP.

“You can’t stop violence by trying to control the streets,” said Gordon Encarnación, a youth associated with UYYWB, in a press release. “You do it by building relationships—going out and meeting people.”

“By giving youths jobs they are off the streets and inside doing something productive, like learning skills they can use for the rest of their life,” said Rebecca Price, a youth worker at Martha Eliot Health Center in Jackson Square in a Gazette interview.

“It’s not as simple as, street workers are an answer to the problem,” said Menino. “It’s how can you make diverse programming for our kids in the summer.”

According to Sandy Holden, spokesperson for the Boston Center for Youth and Family, street workers check in at noon every day at the Tobin Community Center in Mission Hill before being deployed to their focus areas. Street workers are different from youth workers because street workers are out on the street trying to establish relationships with the community. Youth workers work in a local health or community center. Both are regular city-posted positions, which require a full criminal and sexual abuse background check.

She said often the street workers are individuals who come from the same exact background and streets as the kids they work to protect. There have been instances of reformed ex-gang members who work as street workers, but Holden said she did not know if that was the case right now.

According to Holden, street workers wear polo shirts or jackets with large letters on the back that say “Street Worker.” She said the front of their shirt has the city’s seal and the words “Street Worker” as well.

Street workers canvas a specific area unless a special problem area begins to develop. They often assist in school dismissals and go to T stations
after school to discourage conflicts.

According to representatives of the UYYWB, street workers are effective because they are people who are not parents or police officers who youths can begin to trust.

Holden mirrored those comments. She said the director of the street worker program tells the workers it may take a while to build relationships with youths and not to force anything. She said as the youths get to know their street worker the children begin to trust the worker’s resources.

This year’s budget proposes $24.2 million dollars—a 30 percent drop in spending since 2003—for the Boston Youth Fund and the Boston Center for Youth and Families, the two city departments most directly related to community youth programs and opportunities aside from BPS and BPD. BPS and BPD have realized a combined 40 percent increase in spending since 2003.

According to George Lee, a member and budget analyst for the UYYWB, the city budget was cut across all departments in 2002 when there was less state funding. But, since then, other departments have returned close to their 2002 numbers, Lee said.

“Our question is, where has the city’s reinvestment been?” said Lee. “Our goal isn’t to take away from where things are invested. We are more looking at the overall picture.”

This year’s budget proposal allots $3.8 million to create over 1,500 youth summer jobs, a 16 percent increase from last year.

But representatives of the UYYWB say they want an additional $4.5 million for year-round and summer jobs; $2 million for grants to youth programs; and an additional $1.5 million to increase the number of street workers. Representatives from UYYWB maintain funding community programs is an effective way to curb youth violence because it plants the roots that provide opportunities for kids to be educated in a fun way.

According to Price, youth workers serve as a support beam and to help youths who work at the community centers stay focused when designing local programs and projects.

For example, Price is currently working with a number of youths to conduct a survey that seeks to answer questions like, “How do you create healthy teen relationships?” and “What is a healthy relationship?”

Yancey’s call for 300 street workers to be hired was the subject of a hearing last week. According to Beatriz Delgado, a spokesperson for Yancey, the Mayor’s Office is currently drafting a written response.