Street outreach program requests grant money

The Street Outreach Worker Program, established by the city in response to rising youth gun violence in 2007, asked the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee Tuesday night to accept their application for a $200,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.

Barbara Tinney, the executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance — which runs the outreach worker program — and Shirley West, an NHFA supervisor, presented their organization’s plans to decrease street violence in hopes that the committee would ultimately recommend the acceptance of the grant to the full Board of Aldermen, which must approve it.

“Our mission has been to reduce youth gun violence through several methods, including outreach, engagement, interventions, trips, social activities, and advocacy in schools and communities,” Tinney said, adding that the current funding for the program has been inadequate and they need more to keep their services running.

The program works with local schools, law enforcement, and social service agencies to support teenagers in New Haven. According to West, the outreach workers have a unique ability to resolve conflicts that start as small events, such as muggings or disagreements on Facebook, but quickly escalate to lethal violence.

Also present were three outreach workers and approximately 10 teenagers who participate in the program. One teenager said his outreach worker spent three days a week with him and helped him get a job; another said that the program provided him and many other teenagers in the community with “father figures” they otherwise did not have.

Douglas Bethea, a head street outreach worker, said he took a job with the program because his son was killed in 2006 and he saw the program as an opportunity to help calm the violence that took his child’s life.

“These outreach workers take these kids on trips to basketball games and baseball games, and we do one-on-one mentoring and counseling with these kids. We have conversations with them if they’re going through something, and we’re their advocates,” Bethea said. “A kid can call us at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning and we get up and we go, because it may save that kid’s life.”

Trent Butler, another outreach worker, explained that the group wants to reduce gun accessibility, which has increased sharply in the past few years, he said.

“The youth now have access to far greater weapons now than maybe five years ago,” Butler said. “I’ve seen kids as young as 12, 13 years old with guns and weapons: automatics, nine millimeters, glocks, some I can’t even pronounce,” Butler said. “I just know they’re guns, big guns — guns bigger than some of the guys who are carrying them.”

The program currently has 202 participants, and Tinney said they intend to reach other young people through conflict resolution and community events.

Tinney said that the rise of the program was part of the reason why this past summer was one of the “most peaceful summers” New Haven has seen. She attributed part of the program’s success to the outreach workers’ ability to identify and engage with the New Haven youth, and she said that they were effective despite the fact that law enforcement has not always been entirely accepting of them.

“Many of our most effective outreach workers have been formerly incarcerated, and there are some folks in law enforcement who don’t think people can change,” Tinney said. “There is a sentiment among some folks in the courts that law enforcement ought to be done by law enforcement agents, but [these outreach workers] have effective working relationships with neighborhoods that we are most concerned about.”

The Board of Aldermen will vote on whether to approve the grant on Oct. 3.

Clarification: Oct. 4

A previous version of this article did not make clear that the City of New Haven, Community Services Administration is the official applicant organization for the grant from the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.

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