New Haven’s Street Outreach Workers program cleared a key hurdle Wednesday night in pursuit of a $350,000 federal grant.
The program, which was launched in July 2007 as part of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s Youth Initiative, aims to reduce youth violence by building relationships between at-risk youths and street outreach workers. The Youth Committee of the Board of Aldermen met Wednesday night to authorize the New Haven Family Alliance, a local nonprofit which manages the workers, to accept the grant from the federal government. The money will help the organization hire more street outreach workers and expand services for the city’s youth, including employability and life skills workshops, said Barbara Tinney, executive director of the Family Alliance.
“The aim is to provide support to young people who are often marginalized and stereotyped,” Tinney said. “Some make unhealthy decisions, but they need to know that people in this city care about them and that there are alternatives out there.”
Ward 3 Alderwoman and committee member Jacqueline James-Evans said her ward has recently been experiencing problems with gun violence and that she hopes that the federal grant will help outreach workers enhance their presence in the community. Currently, the Family Alliance employs just eight workers assigned to neighborhoods throughout the city.
The residents in her ward in the Hill neighborhood, she said, often form better relationships with the street outreach workers than with police officers.
James-Evans also urged Tinney to distribute the contact information of the street outreach workers to the aldermen of the wards in which they work.
Trent Butler, a street outreach worker at the meeting, said it was typical for him to receive a phone call at 1 a.m. about a shooting, arrive at the hospital to meet with the victim’s family and mediate disputes.
“Our goal is to try to defuse situations and prevent more confrontations in our neighborhoods,” Butler said.
While the Family Alliance has had some difficulty documenting the effect of such efforts on violence prevention, Tinney said she is sure that it has been significant. It is hard to prove a negative, she said.
Still, hiring four additional workers with the federal money would greatly enhance the program’s impact, she added.
Tinney also spoke of the long-term goals that the Family Alliance will be able to pursue with the money, which is administered through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the U.S. Justice Department. She said she hopes to expand workshops designed to help young people leaving the corrections system find gainful employment. The workshops, modeled after similar programs in Boston and Providence, give participants an opportunity to work in a business environment prior to entering the workplace, Tinney said.
“They helped me learn a work ethic and get back into school,” said McKinley George, a former program participant in attendance. “I’m blessed that they found me.”
Committee chair Frances “Bitsie” Clark, who is also Ward 7 alderwoman, praised representatives of the Alliance for their work improving the lives of young people in the city.
“You all are doing God’s work, and I don’t know where we would be without you,” Clark said before moving to take a vote on the grant.
While Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder and Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca abstained, there were four affirmative votes by Clark, James-Evans, Ward 27 Alderman Tom Lehtonen and Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield.
The authorization of the grant money will now go to the full Board of Aldermen for approval. The next Board of Alderman meeting is Nov. 4.
Correction: November 1, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated that WArd 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder and Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca voted against authorization of the grant. In fact, they abstained, as they did not attend the meeting.