City will fund youth initiatives

In an effort to address the recent increase in shootings and youth gang violence, the city will soon introduce an initiative to increase funding for programs that provide after-school and summer activities for youths, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said Wednesday.

The new initiative will likely provide both large grants to established youth services organizations, such as Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership and Farnam House, as well as smaller grants to community groups to start new programs, such as scouting troops or softball leagues, city officials said. Plans to allocate the funding are still in the early stages of development, and the new initiative is not expected to take effect for several months.

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said that by providing youth services organizations with a reliable source of funding, the new initiative will enable them to expand after-school and summer programming.

“When you don’t provide [youths] with programming, they make up their own and we don’t particularly like the things that they think up, like bicycle gangs and all that,” he said. “We have a responsibility towards them, and we’re not meeting it, and we cannot because we don’t give youth services organizations any continuing expectation of money … All these youth services organizations are living hand to mouth, and you can’t provide adequate care to kids if that’s what you’re doing.”

Robert Smuts ’01, DeStefano’s deputy chief of staff, said the mayor is looking to develop both long and short term plans to engage youth in productive activities.

“Short term involves more existing programming and existing efforts — it’s just building on what we can do immediately,” he said. “Long term would be to look at … strategies for how we can change things more substantially.”

New Haven parent Greg Smith, who has been coordinating patrols of parents in the Ward 2 area, said providing funding to smaller community-run programs is essential to cutting down on youth violence.

“It would be helpful because whatever you’re trying to do in the local areas in the neighborhoods takes funds,” he said. “Even the program I’m starting, Parent Patrol, could obviously use some funds.”

Smith said while the city should focus on summer programs to engage youth when they are not occupied with school, smaller community groups could use money to organize neighborhood activities such as block parties or small outings that could “show kids there’s more to life than just hanging out.”

While the mayor said he could not yet comment on potential sources of funding for the new initiatives, Mattison and Ward 28 Alderwoman Babz Rawls-Ivy said initial funding of $1 million will come from the city’s sale of the Water Pollution Control Authority. In the longer term they hope to ensure that funding for youth services becomes a permanent item on the city budget.

“The idea is to look how to make this initiative part of the general fund if possible so it will be an ongoing commitment on the city’s part to support and engage youth as much as possible,” Rawls-Ivy said.

DeStefano said part of the challenge in designing the initiative has been determining how to ensure that funding will be sustainable.

“We need to figure out how to do this in financially constrained times,” he said.

Cynthia Rojas, manager of the City Wide Youth Coalition, an umbrella group for youth services organizations in New Haven that has been working with the Board of Aldermen to develop the program, said youth services programs would function best if funding for such programs were included as a permanent item on the city’s budget.

“My recommendation was that they look at this as being a long term budget item,” she said. “If they just do it for one year they run the risk of youth programs not being able to sustain a program that would fall under this new funding.”

Rojas said she also encouraged the aldermen to create summer employment options for teenagers, who would be unlikel to want to participate in summer camp programs run by city agencies.

The initiative is expected to officially appear before the Board of Aldermen at its next meeting.

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