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Evanston city staff has proposed a $867,000 expansion in initiatives to address the youth violence that has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, including incentives for businesses to provide more workplace development opportunities for youths and their families.

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

Audrey Thompson, the city’s Community Services Manager, outlined the programs at a special City Council meeting Dec. 20 that was conducted virtually.

Mayor Daniel Biss joined NAACP leaders and others last month, calling for workforce development opportunities and other programs after a Nov. 28 shooting that left one young person dead and four other teenagers wounded.

Audrey Thompson, Evanston’s Community Services Manager. (City of Evanston photo)

Beginning her presentation at the Dec. 20 council meeting, Thompson referred to the incident.

She said that, while she looked forward to sharing details of some of the strategies officials have put together, “I’m still saddened by why we even have to be here in the first place. So I really need to say to the victims and the survivors and their families that we really owe you our condolences, but we also owe our actions to you.”

ARPA funds to support programs

In 2021, nine youths between the ages of 14 and 24 have been victims of gun violence in Evanston, she said.

“The increase in youth violence disparately impacts lower-income, African American and people of color, consistent with the disparate impact of the coronavirus on these populations on overall health, housing stability and loss of employment,” Thompson said in a memo to council members she furnished along with her presentation at the meeting.

Staff is proposing that federal American Plan Recovery Act funds be used to pay for the expansion of the programs.

One of the uses of the ARPA funds, Thompson noted in her memo, relates to “evidence-based community violence-intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate the increase in violence during the pandemic.”

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

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

That initiative reached youth 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 takes into account that “we need more of a targeted approach to middle school,” Thompson said.

While her staff at the Youth and Young Adult Division has been conducting life-skills training at some middle schools, she said, “We need to expand that, so that we’re at all the middle schools.”

She also spoke of needs beyond that. “[City staffers] are constantly being asked to attend wraparound meetings with District 65 and District 202 about clients and sometimes they don’t have a release of information [to discuss individual cases],” she told council members. “And they’ll just say, ‘Can we get on a call and talk about what’s happening?’”

Also, she explained, “We need to be able to support those who are in their journey and may not be able to begin or end.”

In that regard, Thompson spoke of young people at Evanston Township High School who started down a career path, attending barber or cosmetology school while at ETHS, but then found their participation cut off upon graduation.

“We know that if you don’t catch them in that time period between the cutoff of their funds, you’ve got a problem,” she told council members.

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

The proposed program expansion also calls for stipends for parents who have been affected by the violence.

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

“But I don’t want them to volunteer [for the classes],” she told council members. “I want to be able to pay them in order to do those parenting classes.”

The proposal also calls for $40,500 to go toward stipends for the youth who serve on the city’s recently created Youth Advisory Committee.

Currently, the city has 12 applicants 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 individuals who are specifically involved in violence or a lot of those at-risk characteristics. We want to be able to have them on the Youth Advisory Committee, and they will be the ones that will inform a lot of the policies and practices, not only for our division, but for the city.”

For instance, she said to council members, “Wouldn’t it be nice for them to be doing this presentation rather than me?” she said of the empowered role envisioned for the group.

City responsibility too

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

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

“If I’m going to go to employers and say, ‘Will you give a young person and/or their families an opportunity?’” she explained, “I can’t ask them to provide opportunities that the city is not willing to provide.”

The proposal included $240,000 for a Youth and Families Workforce Development program, which would give the city the ability to pay an eight-week internship for any employers willing to hire individuals for long-term employment careers for youth and their families.

Also, an allocation of $75,000 ($1,500 per participant) is being proposed, to support agreements with local organizations to provide job assessment and readiness training for youth and family members during the internships.

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

In that area, $25,000 would be allocated to assist seven to 10 blocks in Evanston to form block clubs and to plan their first block club celebration during the summer and $100,000 for staffing, 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 at those facilities, staff proposed, with local businesses such as C&W Market, Chef Q, Curt’s Cafe, Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University and Oakton Community College to be among the participants.

To support the expanded program offerings, staff has proposed the hiring of 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 support of the expanded program in the discussion that followed Thompson’s presentation. Council members have set the proposal as a special order of business on the agenda for their next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 10.

Several Council members suggested a few other areas to be considered as part of the proposal.

Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, asked Thompson about “what articulation with the high school has happened in the past couple of years,” to address youth issues related to that institution. “As a 30-year veteran teacher there, I’d love to know what efforts have been made,” she said.

“We literally have an office at ETHS,” Thompson responded. “And then our outreach team is there a lot of times just to make sure things go smoothly.”

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

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

“Whatever we can do to make the community be able to help families provide and be financially stable would be to the benefit obviously of the family and then the young people we’re 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 are not having a complete conversation if we’re not addressing the issue of guns on the streets directly,” Nieuwsma added. “And so one of the things I’ll be looking for as this discussion moves forward is whatever kind of quantitative data we have on the number of firearms in Evanston, both lawfully registered and unlawfully possessed – whatever kind of data and metrics we have there, as well as what else if anything we might be able to do to further restrict the presence of handguns in our community, both lawfully owned handguns and unlawfully possessed firearms.”

The kids left out

Council member Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, spoke in support of the proposal’s call for more block clubs. “I think it’s great,” she said. “But I hope that it’s going to be expanded citywide.”

She suggested one area that the report did not touch on was youth “who don’t feel like they’re part of this community.”

“Either they are not welcome in the schools or the schools have them labeled as bad kids. They go to after-school programs where they are not welcome, and they just kind of start to feel like they’re on the outskirts of the city. And this is a small city to feel like that,” she said.

She said, “Citywide, we need to think about how we’re welcoming all of our kids – the ones who are good students, not good students, good sports athletes, or just regular everyday kids like me who just don’t feel like they’re an important part of this community.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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