Arroyo: Youths want clean streets, drug treatment

Violence prevention, access to drug treatment and clean streets are among Boston youths’ top concerns, and as such, will top At-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo’s youth agenda, he told the Gazette last week.

Arroyo, who heads the council Committee on Labor, Youth Affairs and Human Rights, spent much of the summer visiting with 25 youth groups throughout the city, including four in JP: The Hyde Square Task Force, Beantown Society, Teen Empowerment and the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center youth program.

“I asked them, ‘If you were mayor for a day, what would you do?’” Arroyo said.

He said consistent youth interest in clean streets was the most surprising takeaway from the meetings. “In almost every room, someone said they want their streets to be cleaner,” he said.

While youth violence is a much-discussed topic, Arroyo said, teen substance abuse is not.

“Young people spoke very passionately about fearing for their friends who are caught up in drugs,” he said.

Arroyo said he does not know what resources are available for young people with drug problems. But adult access is woefully inadequate, he said.

“In November 2009, two days after I got elected, I got a call from a person desperately trying to find a [treatment] bed for his brother. Naively, I thought it would take me a couple of days to find one,” Arroyo said.

Despite his new-won clout as an elected official, it took him a week to track down a bed in Western Massachusetts, he said.

And even if there are resources available for youths, he said, the avenue for finding treatment is complicated.

“The catch with addiction is you can’t want [treatment] for the person. They have to want it for themselves.” For youths, even if they do want treatment, they might be afraid that admitting it would get them thrown in jail, Arroyo said.

Having an open conversation about youth substance abuse could also shed light on the issue of youth violence, Arroyo noted.

“A lot of youth violence is drug gang violence. It is backwards to talk about youth violence and not talk about drugs,” he said.

Arroyo began sculpting his youth agenda shortly after he took office, and one of the main goals has been promoting civic engagement, he said. A summit meeting he hosted with youth groups last summer helped him develop a network to engage youths on issues like summer jobs and Boston Public Library branch closures.

He also hosted a four-session youth leadership training session at City Hall last year where 50 youths got an in-depth look at how city government works, he said.

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