Mayor discusses city’s youth

The “Year of the Youth,” as some city aldermen are calling it, has arrived, but not in a particularly dramatic fashion.

At the Board of Aldermen’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday night, the body continued a conversation that began in late 2006 over whether a youth curfew would be the means to improve public safety for the new year.

New Haven aldermen listen to new proposals on citywide youth programs, Jan. 23, 2007.
Ben Bokser
New Haven aldermen listen to new proposals on citywide youth programs, Jan. 23, 2007.

Now that 2007 has finally arrived, the original proposal of a curfew seemed to be a mere afterthought. Representatives of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. instead visited the aldermanic chambers to present and to hear feedback on several plans to employ, entertain and educate youth in the coming months.

Only a handful of New Haven residents — including the small children of some of the aldermen — came to watch as city officials fleshed out improvements to Mentor New Haven, the Youth @ Work program and the Open Schools Initiative programs. The aldermen were relatively supportive of expanding the initiatives, but they expressed skepticism and some frustration with City Hall leaders for not streamlining the programs or using the meeting to introduce new alternatives to the curfew.

“The City of New Haven [is] very rich with resources, and we have a lot going on,” Pierrette Silverman, the new head of DeStefano’s Youth Initiative, said at the start of the meeting. “You are going to see things moving along at a quicker pace now.”

The co-chair of the Committee of the Whole, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, said she was anxious for many of the programs to be introduced and happy that the city was heeding the wave of public momentum in favor of solving youth issues. Yet she said the Board of Aldermen feel the mayor could be doing more.

“In some ways, the alderman tonight were disappointed that they did not hear a full-blown program,” Clark said after the meeting. “But I think that they are pleased that this kind of study is going on.”

The aldermen indicated they are particularly concerned about where funding for the programs will come from. Most city leaders, such as Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, say private investments, or at least money from the state, will be required to sufficiently expand existing programs or newly developed proposals.

One such program, for example, sprang from recent study demonstrating a correlation between students who skip school and students who find themselves in trouble with the law or otherwise caught up in violence. Some aldermen, such as Clark, are keen on discussing what truancy officers can do to ensure that students attend school regularly. That opportunity will come next Tuesday at 6 p.m. during the next meeting of the Public Safety Committee, which now being chaired by Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah in lieu of embattled Ward 22 Alderman Drew King, the regular chairman.

During the meeting, Silverman and her colleagues faced some tough rhetorical questions from aldermen concerned that the programs were either unproductive or disjointed.

“Are [these programs] really phenomenal or are they just soaking up the money?” Shah asked.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Jackie James questioned why the existing programs — such as the CTRibat effort in Dixwell to identify troubled youth and prevent them becoming involved in crime — aren’t simply expanded.

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield suggested that Yale students interested in marketing become involved with devising methods of attracting youth to city programs. Youth might reject the programs that City Hall leaders implement, several aldermen said, simply because it is coming from adults.

Wednesday’s meeting followed a series of gatherings of the Committee of the Whole last year in which hundreds of city youth and adults delivered testimony about the proposed youth curfew. Many residents who were against the curfew, which would require minors to remain in their homes from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., said the city should instead sponsor more after school activities for students.

In addition to Silverman, Deputy Chief of Staff Che Dawson and Youth @ Work Project Coordinator Stephanie Barnes spoke at the meeting.

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