Youth advocate sends message on gangs
David Miller never turns down an opportunity to help out youth in need.
The former TriMet Riders Advocate who helped customers with their transit needs while defusing tense situations, often with unruly youth, is now working as a youth gangs program manager for Youth Outreach.
Summer is typically when the city sees a spike in gang violence, as youth are out of school and out late. But Miller recently told the Portland Observer that just because the summer is coming to a close this is no time to relax, and the city should consider adjusting how it is responding to the problem.
“Just because fall is coming doesn’t mean the violence is going to stop,” said Miller, who is alarmed by the rash of gang-related shootings that occurred last month, eight of which occurred in the course of 24 hours. “It’s all hands on deck right now,” he added
He said that as school starts, bad blood might be stirred back up as rivals encounter each other again in the classroom and at sporting events.
During the winter of 2008 and 2009, the city saw an uptick in gang violence, which Miller points to as a reason for people to not let their guards down.
He also called for a different approach to combating the problem.
The Mayor’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention runs a grant that distributes money each year to six private non-profits that aim to reduce gang violence through outreach and prevention efforts.
During the last cycle, it awarded $60,000 to six private non-profits. The funding helped pay for two part-time coordinator positions, and seven street level gang outreach workers, who make their presence known in “hot spots” known for gang activity and build relationships with at-risk youth.
The program has undergone two grant cycles since it was implemented in 2007, during which it funded the same organizations including Brothers and Sisters Keepers Inc., Catholic Charities- El Programa Hispano, Emmanuel Community Services, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, and Native American Youth and Family Services.
“We’re getting the same results,” said Miller of the outcomes from funding these organizations. “It’s time to make a change.”
Miller said that combating the problem of gang violence requires a more holistic approach that involves families in addition to youth. He also noted that many families are stretched thin financially, and if they could get help paying their rent or utilities it might provide some much needed home stability.
According to a report from the Youth Violence Prevention group’s Street Level Gang Outreach Program, outreach workers were successful in reaching many of the families of at-risk youth. Additionally gang-related homicides have dropped from 27 in 2007 to 15 in 2008, and 14 last year.
Roy Kaufman, Mayor Sam Adams’ spokesperson, said in an-email that all the applications for funding are rigorously evaluated by a panel of individuals coming from city commissioners’ staff, the Oregon Youth Authority, and other government agencies.
Miller also said that there needs to be different solutions to the problem, like maybe giving tickets to sporting events in exchange for illegal weapons, which he said the Portland Trail Blazers have been good about.
“You have to be creative working with kids,” he said.
As for the mayor’s proposal to get guns off the street, Miller said that it could do some good, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.
But the problem goes even deeper, according to Miller. Some kids have little attachment to society and the lack of relevance in the classroom and economic opportunities only makes matters worse, he said. He added that there needs to be more opportunities for kids to get involved in constructive activities and learn trades.
“Some kids don’t feel like they are part of Portland,” he said.
Miller also added that he’s sponsoring an event on Sept. 25 where youth can learn about firefighting profession. He can be reached at email@example.com.