Streetworkers are key to safety and security on streets

The outrage over the recent surge of violent crimes in Boston is palpable as our communities come under siege and local leaders huddle to try to deal with the increase in brutality. Eleven-year-olds with guns, teens shooting each other in broad daylight on city streets, and tourists getting caught in the crosshairs—it is clear that we have a serious and escalating problem on our hands. The solution to addressing the problem is not just about the appearance of the Guardian Angels or about increased police presence.

The solution undoubtedly includes the dedicated people who work for the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF). These men and women have been on foot patrolling our city’s streets and responding to violent and escalating situations for close to two decades. But their responsibility does not end on a street corner. BCYF employees are charged with mentoring Boston youths in safe havens such as after school programs and community centers, and providing additional support and a safety net for urban families dealing with the everyday struggles of urban life.

Back in the early 1990s, when the crime rate was rising and the red flags flying, the number of BCYF Streetworkers patrolling our neighborhoods went to an all-time high. Elected leaders were investing in the program—both in spirit and with the city’s budget. Today, lack of funding leaves the program neglected and forces BCYF Streetworkers into dangerous situations. One example is that Streetworkers who once patrolled in pairs now walk their beat alone, and exposure to weapons, drugs and volatile youths are all in a day’s work.

Earlier this month, City Councilor Charles Yancey spoke about the insufficient number of current Streetworkers—a mere 21—and recommended that the city hire an additional 300 Streetworkers to adequately respond to the escalating youth violence on city streets. It has also been suggested by City Councilor Mike Ross and former Streetworker and now BCYF Executive Director Robert Lewis Jr. that with the summer months ahead, and a pattern of increased violence during this time, BCYF community centers should extend their hours to give the city’s youth a safe place to go during the late hours of June, July and August. Is the city prepared? Or will our city streets grow darker and more dangerous as we listen to excuse after excuse as to why we cannot secure our city’s future?

Our responsibility to the young citizens of Boston is not only to keep them safe, but to keep an optimistic future for our city. As Mayor Thomas Menino so poignantly stated, “[Streetworkers] are out in our neighborhoods, building relationships with at-risk kids and working hand-in-hand with law enforcement to diffuse violence and bringing new energy to our ongoing commitment to make Boston the safest city in America.” It is time we honor, respect and appreciate the Streetworkers that serve as guardian angels on the most dangerous streets of our city every day.

Susana Segat
President of SEIU 888

SEIU is the union representing many City of Boston employees, including Streetworkers.

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