Noah Daponte-Smith

The Board of Alders’ Youth Services Committee kicked off its first meeting of 2016 by discussing areas on which it will focus for the next two years, with youth homelessness emerging as one of the committee’s primary concerns.

The six-person workshop in City Hall Wednesday evening was Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate’s first time heading the Youth Services Committee since assuming chairmanship last month. Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, who served as committee chair throughout her second term as alder, is now the vice-chair of the committee, which also includes Board of Alders president Tyisha Walker. Alders on the committee suggested that the body take on a supervisory role, checking up on projects relating to youth services in the city, including efforts to fight homelessness and violence in the youth population.

Wingate, a union-backed alder, said he is looking forward to his tenure as chair.

“This is my first term as Youth Committee chair, and hopefully you support me and I support you as we move the city forward for our youth,” Wingate said to fellow committee members at the beginning of the meeting. “I think we have a great time. I’m looking forward to it.”

Wingate noted that he has already begun to take action in his role as chair of the committee. In the run-up to the Board of Education student election in April, he met with the two candidates in the race regularly throughout the winter.

Alders at the meeting raised a variety of proposals for the committee to focus on in the coming two years. Walker suggested the committee perform reviews of The Escape, a youth center and homeless shelter, and the Q House, the long-awaited Dixwell community center whose construction was recently made possible by the approval of a state grant.

Walker also said the committee should work with the alders’ Black and Hispanic Caucus to address youth hunger, particularly through a pilot program to serve dinners in schools.

Fair Haven Heights Alder Rosa Santana had similar priorities. She said the committee should work on addressing youth homelessness and hunger — two issues that Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett said are just coming onto the radar of lawmakers in Hartford.

Bartlett noted that state money for a pilot program to address youth homelessness and hunger may soon be made available, and encouraged the committee to look into the possibility of securing grant funding for a possible new project.

Eidelson, who made youth violence prevention a focus of her time as chair of the committee, suggested the committee stay on top of the implementation of violence-prevention grants in the city. Bartlett, mentioning the ongoing state budget cuts that may dry up some funding sources, said the committee should work with New Haven’s delegation to Hartford to ensure the city will continue to receive state grants.

Walker said those efforts may be time-sensitive, given the shortened timeline this year of the General Assembly, which will only run for four months.

“We all know that this is a short session, so it’s probably sooner than later that we should start throwing around our ideas for drafting [a] letter, so they know this is something that’s working in the city,” Walker said at the meeting.

For Bartlett, the committee might also try to expand the definition of “youth,” which the state currently defines as between the ages of 16 and 21. But he said the city would still like to address homelessness among 22- and 23-year-olds, which the city already does through The Situation, the 15-bed homeless shelter housed within The Escape.

Walker, a former vice-chair of the committee, agreed. She said she would like to see the committee discuss youth issues with a broad perspective.

“Youth is something that’s near and dear to my heart, and I think when people think about youth, they do think about it in a narrow-minded way as far as age and things of that nature,” she said. “We have to move with the population that we have. Some people say 18 is an adult. In my opinion, that’s just the end of being a baby.”

Near the end of the meeting, Wingate said he envisions the role of the committee as “building bridges” with Mayor Toni Harp and her administration to tackle the youth issues that continue to vex the city. The committee, he said, should be a place for open debate and “smart arguments.”

There are currently an estimated 400 homeless youth living in the Elm City.