City staff’s $867,000 expansive plan targets youth violence

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City of Evanston staff proposed an $867,000 expansion of initiatives to address youth violence that has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, including incentives for businesses to provide more opportunities workplace development for young people and their families.

It also includes expanding the age range of the group to be served by the programs and adding allowances for family members scarred by violence to attend special parenting classes.

Audrey Thompson, the city’s community services manager, described the programs at a special Dec. 20 city council meeting that took place virtually.

Mayor Daniel Biss joined NAACP leaders and others last month in calling for workforce development opportunities and other programs after a Nov. 28 shooting that left a youth dead and four other injured teenagers.

Audrey Thompson, Evanston Community Services Manager. (Photo by City of Evanston)

Early in his presentation at the Dec. 20 board meeting, Thompson addressed the incident.

She said that while she was eager to share the details of some of the strategies officials have been developing, “I’m still saddened by why we even have to be here in the first place. So I really have to say to the victims and survivors and their families that we really owe you our condolences, but we also owe you our actions.

ARPA funds to support programs

In 2021, nine young people between the ages of 14 and 24 were victims of gun violence in Evanston, she said.

“Rising youth violence is disparately impacting low-income people, African Americans, and people of color, consistent with the disparate impact of the coronavirus on these populations on overall health, stability of the housing and job loss,” Thompson said in a memo to council members. she provided with her presentation at the meeting.

Staff propose that federal funds from the American Plan Recovery Act be used to pay for program expansion.

One use of ARPA funds, Thompson noted in his memo, is for “evidence-based community violence intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate increases in violence during the war.” pandemic”.

To that end, Thompson added, “a holistic program to address the underlying factors that drive youth violence must be applied.”

The proposed program builds on the successful “My Town, Your Town, Our Town” initiative, launched in 2021 to create summer activities for young people to counter social isolation caused by COVID-19, Thompson told reporters. council members.

This initiative reached young people aged 13 to 18 and their families, she said.

Expanded age group

The new proposal calls for expanding the program to target age groups between 11 and 29, which would also include family members.

The expansion recognizes that “we need a more focused college approach,” Thompson said.

As her staff in the Youth and Young Adult Division provided life skills training in some colleges, she said, “We need to expand this, so that we are in all colleges. »

She also spoke of needs beyond that. “[City staffers] are constantly asked to attend wrap-up meetings with District 65 and District 202 about clients and sometimes they have no disclosure of information [to discuss individual cases]she told council members. “And they’ll just say, ‘Can we make a call and talk about what’s going on? “”

Additionally, she explained, “We need to be able to support those who are on their journey and may not be able to start or finish. »

In this regard, Thompson spoke of young people at Evanston Township High School who started a career, attending hairdressing or cosmetology school while at ETHS, but then saw their attendance cut short after the graduation.

“We know that if you don’t catch them in that period of time between cutting off their funds, you have a problem,” she told council members.

“So we have to be able to say ‘If you finish [the courses]then we will provide the funding for the rest” of the program, she said.

The proposed program expansion also provides allowances for parents who have been affected by the violence.

“We want them to be trained in a program called Parenting for Nonviolence,” Thompson said.

“But I don’t want them volunteering [for the classes]she told council members. “I want to be able to pay them to take these parenting classes.”

The proposal also seeks $40,500 for stipends for young people who serve on the city’s recently created youth advisory committee.

Currently, the city has 12 candidates who were referred specifically by social service organizations to serve on the committee.

Of membership, Thompson said, “We’re happy to have a valedictorian, but we also want people who are specifically involved in violence or a lot of those risky characteristics. We want to be able to have them on the youth advisory committee, and they will be the ones who inform a lot of policy and practice, not just for our division, but for the city.

For example, she said to the board members, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they gave this presentation instead of me?” she said of the empowered role envisioned for the group.

The responsibility of the city too

Regarding workforce development, she spoke of opportunities “right now” – “to be able to provide opportunities when someone says, ‘I need a job right away.

In that regard, she said, “We need to be able to get into town at 2100 Ridge and talk to every department and really work with them on what positions we can hire for those positions right now.

“If I have to go to employers and say: ‘Do you want to give an opportunity to a young person and/or his family?’ “, she explained, “I can’t ask them to provide opportunities that the city is not willing to provide. provide.”

The proposal included $240,000 for a youth and family workforce development program, which would give the city the ability to pay for an eight-week internship for any employer willing to hire people for long-term careers for young people and their families.

Additionally, a $75,000 ($1,500 per participant) stipend is proposed to support arrangements with local organizations to provide employment assessment and readiness training to youth and family members during internships. .

The proposal recommends allocating $200,000 to another category, Alternative Recreation.

In this area, $25,000 would be allocated to help seven to 10 blocks in Evanston form bouldering clubs and plan their first bouldering club celebration during the summer and $100,000 for staff, food and supplies for Robert Crown and Gibbs-Morrison to support after-school drop-in centers. Culinary and entrepreneurial workforce development events will be scheduled for the kitchen space of these facilities, staff proposed, with local businesses including C&W Market, Chef Q, Curt’s Cafe, Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University and Oakton Community College among the participants.

To support the expanded program offerings, staff proposed hiring a new full-time member of the city’s youth and young adult outreach team, at a cost of $100,000.

Several city council members spoke in favor of the expanded program during the discussion following Thompson’s presentation. Council members placed the proposal as a special agenda on the agenda for their next meeting, scheduled for January 10.

Several Board members suggested a few other areas to consider as part of the proposal.

Clare Kelly, Council Member, 1st Ward, asked Thompson “what articulation with high school has occurred over the past two years,” to address youth issues related to this institution. “As a 30-year veteran teacher there, I would like to know what efforts have been made,” she said.

“We literally have an office at ETHS,” Thompson replied. “And then our outreach team is there many times just to make sure everything is going well.”

She said the city’s outreach team works with high school staff, including the school’s principal and superintendent, to receive referrals.

Council member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she was happy to see so many programs in the proposal that involve families, “because [the approach] must be comprehensive for young people, but it must also be holistic for the whole family.

“Anything we can do to ensure that the community can help families support themselves and be financially stable would obviously be in the best interests of the family and then the young people we are trying to reach with this program.”

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, expressed interest in learning more about how the city plans to coordinate outreach with the two school districts and “what work is being done by the districts themselves.”

“We don’t have a full conversation if we don’t directly address the issue of guns on the streets,” Nieuwsma added. “And so one of the things that I will be looking for as this discussion goes forward is what kind of quantitative data we have on the number of firearms in Evanston, both legally registered and illegally held – whatever what kind of data and metrics we have there, as well as what else we could do, if anything, to further restrict the presence of handguns in our community, both guns legally owned handguns and illegally owned firearms.

Children left behind

Cicely Fleming, Council Member, 9th District, spoke in favor of the proposal’s call for more block clubs. “I think it’s great,” she said. “But I hope it will be extended to the whole city.”

She suggested that one area the report did not address was young people “who don’t feel like they are part of this community”.

“Either they are not welcome in the schools or the schools call them bad kids. They go to after-school programs where they’re not welcome, and they just start to feel like they’re on the outskirts of town. And it’s a small town to feel like that,” she said.

She said: “Throughout the city, we have to think about how we welcome all of our children – those who are good students, not good students, good sports athletes or just ordinary children like me who don’t have just don’t fancy they are an important part of this community.

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