New Haven Director of Youth Services Jason Bartlett announced at a Feb. 27 City Hall press conference that the city awarded the contract to run New Haven’s Street Outreach Worker program to the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program.
“I think it’s a new day and a great day,” Bartlett said at the press conference. “We decided as a city to hold on to the contract and to send it out for a [request for proposals] to get bids of proposals. Over the last couple of years, the program has seen some obstacles. … We wanted to see who was out there that would do some different kinds of things and turn this into an opportunity to strengthen relationships.”
The program had been administered by the New Haven Family Alliance since 2006; however, this year, Bartlett told the News that he did not renew the alliance’s annual contract to run the program.
“One reason [for this] was difficulties in receiving outcomes and reports on a timely basis and the recent history of the Board of Alders putting the [Street Outreach Worker] monies in escrow,” Bartlett told the News. “The second reason was reports that New Haven Family Alliance was having financial problems, and there was a community concern about their financial sustainability.”
The Street Outreach Worker program, which began in 2006, comprises a team of outreach workers who form close connections with “high-risk youth” in New Haven, Bartlett told the News. “The youth might be gang-involved, have touched the juvenile justice system or maybe just chronically absent and truant from school and hanging in the streets,” he said, noting that the program seeks to make a large impact on these individuals.
Jahad told the News that in the past, outreach workers would mitigate emotions of family and friends of victims who may want to “reciprocate violence,” act as a liaison to emergency response staff at the hospital. He said that on occasion, the outreach workers took weapons away from friends, purchased food and beverages,and hired Ubers to get individuals away from scenes of violence, so they would “not ignite emotions.”
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that the program engages young people without the presence or stigma of law enforcement, while at the same time maintaining law enforcement’s support and endorsement.
At the press conference, Jahad introduced the four current outreach workers — William Outlaw, Douglas Bethea, Pepe Vega and Lopez Jones.
“The guys don’t make a lot of money and are fully committed to the program and antiviolence in the New Haven community,” Jahad told the News. At the press conference, he called the group “the baddest group of men” that he knows in the country.
New Haven Police Lt. Karl Jacobson said at the press conference that the relationship between the New Haven Police Department and the Street Outreach Works Program “took off.” He said that the outreach workers and the police department knocked on doors on Christmas day to spread an anti-violence message among children.
“We can only make a certain amount of arrests. [The outreach workers] can talk to everyone — and they’re good at it,” Jacobson said at the press conference.
Bartlett said that the city paid the New Haven Family Alliance on a month-to-month basis from July to November, and that the contract was released in order to request new proposals from the community at large — to see if other providers would attempt to do the work.
Bartlett noted that the city was specific in its request for proposals because he wanted “certain things to happen” going forward to strengthen the city’s strategy of reducing violence in the city. The specific aspects required included having a working relationship with the Yale-New Haven Hospital, the use of city-sponsored Veoci software to better coordinate with community partners and more program integration with Youth Stat — a school-based intervention program.
Bartlett told the News that the New Haven Family Alliance did not respond to the city’s request, but the CT Violence Intervention Project did. This prompted the Street Outreach Worker team to move to the CT Violence Intervention Project, with the project being awarded the contract.
At the Feb. 27 press conference, Bartlett said that the Yale-New Haven Hospital has issued a written memorandum of understanding agreement that states that the hospital will partner with the CT Violence Intervention Program and will provide them with technical assistance and resources. Bartlett explained that this relationship is important — if there is a shooting, a street outreach worker is sent to the hospital to do an assessment and will “console and engage families that might be affected by the shooting,” Bartlett said.
The city’s commitment to the program is $50,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year — about three times the amount that is proposed for Fiscal Year 20, according to Grotheer.
“The street outreach worker program is proactive and works to meet at-risk residents where they live, where they congregate and where they could be prone to anti-social and even criminal behavior,” Grotheer said.
Street Outreach Workers meet the recipients of the program — 13–21 year-old individuals — directly in locations that include parks and homes, Bartlett told the News. Street Outreach Workers must have “some credibility and enough relationships in the community” to allow them to have conversations that help redirect behaviors. Bartlett added that this information helps inform Youth Stat and other community partners how to best direct resources and “be preventative” to help stop violence.
“[Street Outreach Workers] also play a critical role any time there is a shooting by showing up at the place of the incident and also being at the hospital. Their charge is to work with the families and friends and to try to mitigate any potential retaliation,” Bartlett told the News.
Bartlett told the News that when he first arrive in New Haven, there was a gang of youth called the “Starr St. gang.” Two of the Street Outreach Workers put 20 members, aged 14–24, in a place together to meet with Bartlett. He said that he and the group had a “nice chat” and that he worked to get them jobs, resources for their homes and money for transportation. Additionally, some of the youth were signed up for Youth Stat, where the city began tracking them and insuring that holistic wraparound services — a web of support agencies and professionals —were provided to redirect their behaviors.
Bartlett added that Street Outreach Workers are also activated for large sporting events or parades. Bartlett said that if the city’s Youth Services Department knows that “different young people are going to be in the same arena and they are having beefs,” then they have Street Outreach Workers at the event who work to make sure that no incidents arise.
“This is all about relationships and being intentional. Sometimes it may even mean taking certain kids out of the community on a field trip on the day of the event. We work collaboratively to make these types of interferences a reality,” Bartlett said.
The Street Outreach Worker program will be expanded to include Hamden, as part of the contract change.
Sammy Westfall | firstname.lastname@example.org