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Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn to share $3.38m to help stop youth violence

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / October 20, 2011

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Four area cities are receiving a major boost from the state in their efforts to stem youth violence.

Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn were among 11 cities selected to receive a combined $9.7 million through the Patrick administration’s Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, a program aimed at bringing comprehensive services to young men considered at high risk of being perpetrators or victims of serious violence.

The four area cities were awarded a combined $3.38 million, with Chelsea and Lowell allotted $900,000 each, Lawrence $800,000, and Lynn $788,832.

“We’re thrilled. It’s a much needed resource and we’re very pleased to have been selected,’’ said MaryAnn O’Connor, director of the health division of Lynn’s Inspectional Services Department.

O’Connor said Lynn has been carrying out a comprehensive gang intervention strategy since 2008 through grants from the state’s Shannon Community Safety Initiative. But she said funding for that program has been significantly cut the past couple of years, so the new infusion of resources is especially good news.

“This money is really going to help us expand our existing model and include some very intensive and targeted intervention such as case management, outreach, counseling, and education and employment options,’’ she said.

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash welcomed the funding award.

“Communities across the Commonwealth and around the country are being impacted by youth violence, and Chelsea is no exception,’’ Ash said by e-mail.

Lauding the existing efforts of the city’s police force and community organizations to address the violence, Ash said the new grant “will augment and advance the work we are doing and give us the opportunity to reach even further into the causes and solutions of the problem.’’

Governor Deval Patrick in his January State of the State address listed eliminating youth violence as one of the four goals of his administration’s second term.

The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, funded with $10 million in a fiscal 2011 supplemental budget, is intended to advance that goal.

To be eligible for grants, cities had to be able to document high levels of youth violence.

The funds must be used for initiatives targeting males 14 to 24 who are “proven risk youth;’’ those who are known to local police because of their involvement in gangs, for instance, or who have been in the juvenile justice system, according to Marilyn Anderson Chase, assistant secretary for youth and families in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The initiatives must include street-level outreach to the targeted youths, counseling to help them address traumatic experiences, providing them with education and employment services, and offering assistance to other family members.

The education services could include getting youths who have dropped out of high school to reenroll or to enter an alternative high school or GED program. Employment services would include placing young people in jobs that offer supportive working environments and the chance to learn skills, with the state providing stipends.

“We are interested in demonstrating the effectiveness of these kinds of investments in making a difference in youth violence,’’ Chase said. If the initiatives prove successful, she said the administration would look for a way to fund future grants.

O’Connor said Lynn plans to establish two teams, one focusing on 14- to 17-year-olds and the other on 18- to 24-year-olds.

Both teams will include representatives from varied agencies involved with young people, from the city’s police department to court probation staff, and local human service organizations.

“We will contract with local agencies to provide clinical services, case management, GED, work, and employment skills training,’’ she said, noting that the city’s housing authority will also be involved, providing many of the job opportunities.

Ash said he is so convinced that Chelsea’s planned initiative will reduce violence that he is asking the City Council to supplement the state grant with $300,000 from additional local aid the city is anticipating from a supplemental state budget.

While some of the details of the plan will depend on whether that additional funding becomes available, Ash said the initiative will involve dedicating a police sergeant to coordinate intervention activities with other parts of the criminal justice system and community organizations.

As much as two-thirds of the funding will go to the community organizations to provide various intervention services for youths and their families.

The city also plans to have a full-time program coordinator and a core programming team, and to create a Community Safety Committee to help guide the project.

Lowell City Manager Bernard Lynch said the city’s new grant will provide welcome resources needed to build on the youth violence prevention program it had developed though monies from the Shannon grant program.

Noting that the state wants the cities to focus on high-risk 14- to 24-year-old males, Lynch said, “that’s going to be very helpful to us in targeting those [young people] and trying to do some hands-on work with those youths who are at risk, focusing in particular on job opportunities, education, and in some cases trauma counseling.’’

Lowell police will be partnering with community organizations, including the United Teen Equality Center, and Lowell Community Health Center, to provide the services to the at-risk young people.

Lynch said the city has made significant strides in addressing its youth violence problem, noting that incidents of gang violence have fallen dramatically in the last five years.

“But it’s still a major issue for us,’’ he said, noting that over the past 5 1/2 years, there have been 933 arrests of people 24 and under for serious crimes in the city.

A Lawrence official familiar with the city’s grant could not be reached.