New Haven youth may soon have new places to socialize in a safe setting.
The need for additional low-key and safe recreational facilities in New Haven was foremost on the agenda for the Aldermanic Youth Committee’s meeting Wednesday night. Members of the aldermanic Youth Council, concerned New Haven residents and student representatives from three New Haven high schools — Eli Whitney, High School in the Community and James Hillhouse — attended the meeting, where they voiced concerns about unruly youth behavior, parental indifference and the location of facilities.
“Apart from summer jobs and recreational school trips, there isn’t much to do in New Haven,” said Ronald S. Muggins Jr., a student at Hillhouse High School who works in the mayor’s office.
Meeting attendants said businesses offering recreational services, such as the Chapel mall on the New Haven Green and the “Rolling Wheels” skating rink in Wallingford, have recently closed down, leaving youth no choice but to spend at least 30 minutes traveling to neighboring towns to seek entertainment.
“Sometimes getting on the bus is a pain,” said Darrell Brown, president of the junior class at James Hillhouse High School.
After conducting research on the existing facilities, Clark concluded that there is some kind of a need for youth hangouts within a reasonable travel distance, she said.
But while school- and church-sponsored activities do exist, Clark and high-schoolers said a lack of resources made the offerings inadequate.
Supervised activities organized by schools, though heavily patronized, are overcrowded and often feature the occasional brawl as students vie for places on the bus, said Tenia Holloway, vice president of the junior class at High School in the Community.
Students said that when there is one activity, all the teens are funneled into it, and student representatives said they would like to see more shopping centers, bowling alleys, sports facilities and skating rinks that are geared toward teenagers rather than younger children.
“Although we are in the fact-finding stage, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to begin to further these interests,” Clark said.
The committee members said they intend to conduct research to find out what kind of facilities the youth would prefer in the community, the cost of their development and the resources needed to run them. When the question of funding and support was raised, Clark suggested that sponsorship need not come from the Chamber of Commerce and from taxpayers’ money. Private businesses might be able to intervene to meet the growing demand for youth recreation, she said.
Che Dawson, a representative of the City of New Haven, voiced some doubts about private-sector response to calls for investment resulting from unruly youth conduct at such establishments. He said businesses may be reluctant to accept the accompanying risks and liability.
“We need to teach young people to make responsible decisions in the absence of adults,” he said.
Brown suggested that youths who patronize the developed facilities should be made to sign contracts by which they agreed to adhere to strict rules of conduct or face criminal charges. Other suggestions from student representatives included the use of student resource officers — peers who help teachers maintain order in school — to curb youth violence.
Brown also stressed the need for future youth facilities to be built on “neutral ground” to attract teens from all districts in New Haven and to avoid conflict between territorial groups who do not feel comfortable being in foreign neighborhoods.
The committee also focused on the exclusion of high-risk youths, who members said stand to gain the most from these facilities.
“Some kids don’t want to do anything,” Muggins said. “They think there is no hope. We are always going to have these, but we can at least get the majority to do something productive.”
Carolyn Baker, a college-placement consultant, suggested that an increased level of teen involvement would help make New Haven a youth-friendly city.
“The youth should be given positions in the decision-making process,” she said. “We should empower and encourage them to effect change in the community. The town belongs to them.”
In response, the student representatives urged the committee to go out and visit the youth in their comfort zones — in the schools and in the streets. The next Board of Aldermen meeting will be held Monday, March 31.