In addition to the usual stresses of adolescence, hundreds of young teens in New Haven face an additional daily challenge: finding a safe place to sleep at night. A recent Board of Education study found that over 420 teens in the city stay on different friends’ or relatives’ couches every night because they don’t have a home. Whether their family is facing joblessness, a messy divorce, abuse or their family doesn’t accept who they are, these young people face daily struggles that can make it all but impossible to stay on the right track.
I believe that the government should stand between these young people and hopelessness and despair. That is why I ran for mayor two years ago and why I am running for re-election today.
When we talk about the government, especially local government, we tend not to focus on the real impact that our choices have on people’s lives. Statistics and bureaucracy can make our government seem abstract and distant. I’m proud that in the last two years we’ve managed to balance our budgets, decrease crime trends and bring down the unemployment rate. But I’m so much prouder of the programs, like our new YouthStat initiative, that bring help specifically to our community’s most vulnerable young people.
I want a bright future for our city: a future where no one feels unsafe walking New Haven’s streets, where all young people have opportunities to grow and thrive and where everyone who wants a good job can find one. And I believe that an active, strong local government is essential to making that goal a reality.
Since taking office, my administration has worked to create a new drop-in youth center called The Escape that will open early next year. The Youth Services Committee on our Board of Alders, under the leadership of Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson, has been a key partner in advocating for more youth opportunities and spaces in our city. The Escape will include a shelter with beds for homeless teens. Rather than following the traditional youth center model with mandated activities for participating youth, The Escape will be a safe place where young people can simply spend time with each other. There will be rich programming and case-management options on hand, but the focus is to create a space that our city’s youth can call their own.
The Escape is a great example of the way that local government can be a force for good in the lives of our most vulnerable residents. But it’s hardly the only one. With more police officers walking beats, our city is safer than it was two years ago. It has more good jobs, thanks to programs like our New Small Business Development Office and New Haven Works. Our city is a better place to be a young person than it was two years ago. Due to programs such as YouthStat, more of our young people are in school every day. More of them are passing their classes, graduating and making their way to college and a better life.
But we still have work to do. The Escape cannot provide beds for all 420 homeless youth or one new business employ all of New Haven’s out-of-work residents. That is why I am asking you for your support today. As your mayor, I will keep bringing people together. I will keep making sure that we are all empowered to innovate, to try, to measure and to try again. We will stay united as a city and as a Democratic Party. And, together, we will create a New Haven where no young person has to worry about where to spend the night, because they know that their government has their back.
Toni Harp is the 50th mayor of New Haven and is running for re-election. Contact her at MayorHarp@newhavenct.net.