A local community group says a city-run youth violence prevention program is failing to make a difference. City staff, however, disagree.
“We understand violence is a reality … but we’re concerned the program is not working as well as it can be,” said Todd Benson, an organizer with Congregations Organizing for Renewal.
More than 120 residents, along with Mayor Mark Green and a representative from the Alameda County Probation Department, attended a community action night hosted by COR at Wednesday evening. COR members criticized the city’s , a program established in 2008 to quell youth-related crimes that's funded by tax dollars.
COR and Karen Yifru, whose son was slain in 2007, were integral in helping to launch the program, which calls for a number of services to be provided to at-risk youths, including street outreach, call-in meetings, crisis response, job training and job placement.
But the group said program staff members are failing to engage the community and asked Mayor Green to make changes to the program’s current advisory board to increase oversight and engagement.
The current advisory board, which meets once monthly, consists of representatives from COR, the program’s staff, the police department, school board, Human Relations Commission, Filipino Advocates for Justice and other organizations.
The new group would include the same members, with additional community support, and would assume a more active role. At the meeting, John Mein of the Alameda County Probation Department agreed to participate in the new committee.
Throughout Wednesday night’s event, COR members spoke on their experiences with violence and stressed the need for stronger support from the city.
Yesenia Molinar said her family was scarred when her brother was wounded and his best friend killed in November 2007.
“No one deserves to have their life taken away,” she said. “The youth need to know there’s a way to prevent these scenarios.”
“Our children continue to remain at-risk,” said Mary Schlarb, a longtime Decoto resident and COR organizer. “We can not let violence define who we are.”
By the numbers
During a brief presentation, Schlarb said that after the program was initially introduced, the city’s homicide rate dropped from five in 2007 to three in 2008. COR leaders said crime has since increased.
However, according to the Union City Police Department’s 2010 statistical summary, the latest data available, crime decreased all around in 2010.
According to the data, there were three homicides each in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with the number of rapes, robberies and burglaries lower in 2010 than in previous recent years (view the document by clicking on the thumbnail to the right).
So far in 2011, there have been three homicides, all of which occurred within a month.
City staff, participants say program has proven success record
Though Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program staff did not speak publicly at the event, many staff members attended the meeting and told Patch they disagreed that the program is ineffective.
“Our perspective is that it is working,” said Jill Stavosky, manager of the Leisure Services department, which oversees the youth violence program. “We have youths working and youths receiving vocational training. We have a youth outreach team and the boxing program. We’re preventing bad things from happening in their lives.”
According to city staff, the program has served more than 80 youths and their families by offering a range of services, from counseling and education to job training and family support.
Many program clients learn work skills at Cypress-Mandela Training Center, a pre-apprenticeship school in Oakland that offers programs in fields such as carpentry, construction, electrical fundamentals and solar installation. They then receive job placement assistance.
“Our goal is to continue to make it work,” Stavosky said.
About 20 youths who have been involved in the youth violence program also attended the Wednesday night gathering but left feeling snubbed as only COR members were allowed to speak.
“How are you going to have a community meeting and not let the community speak?” said Robert Rodriguez, 23, a client of Youth and Family Services, whose staff also runs the youth violence program. He said the program has provided him with opportunities and positive guidance.
“They’re talking about violence in the community, but they’re badgering us and criticizing what we do,” he said.
Alex Marabilla, 21, echoed Rodriguez’s sentiments and added that he has been enrolled in the program for three years. Through the program, he was able to obtain a GED and enlist in the military.
Success won’t come overnight
Despite the rift at the meeting, Mayor Green said such meetings are necessary for the program’s success.
Green has been an ardent supporter of the program and campaigned in 2008 for Measure UU, a parcel tax to generate $4 million for public safety programming over an eight-year period. The majority of the money is dedicated to maintaining police and fire staffing, with $500,000 set aside for the youth violence program.
Program funds will dry up by 2016, at which point residents will be asked to vote to extend Measure UU, thereby extending the youth violence prevention campaign.
“[The youth] need to know we’ll be there for them in the long haul,” Schlarb said about continuing the program.
But the city can only do so much, Green said.
“It’s really a collaboration starting from the individual level and going up,” he said. “We need all elements to come together.”
The — a proposed collaboration between the New Haven Unified School District and local community groups to provide disadvantaged students with a variety of services and support — and — are moves in the right direction, Green said.
COR representatives will speak at the Nov. 8 City Council meeting to ask that the new working group for the Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program be considered. They urged supporters to attend the meeting.