By Lynn Sharpe Underwood.
Bishop Cornelius Bowser’s recent opinion piece for Voice of San Diego, “Here’s Why We’ll Never End San Diego’s Gang Problem,” sparked a conversation between us that we both agree is useful to share. We work together on gang prevention task forces and support groups like the Community Assistance Support Team, the Opportunity Network and the San Diego Compassion Project.
Not only are San Diego’s political and government services lacking a pointed, well-funded strategy on addressing the violence and poverty in our most under-served communities, but those with money are not willing to support efforts in those communities. There are a few private foundations that have taken on the mantle of care and they’ve been outstanding, but they’re also stretched to the max.
As a result of the city and county of San Diego’s lack of focus and sporadic funding, we have agencies competing against one another instead of working together and we don’t have a continuum of care that we can point to that really makes a difference in the communities impacted by gang violence, poverty and racism.
Bowser and I thought the following programs and services might begin to paint a picture of a possible resolution. The idea is that within each 20-block area, those areas determined to be in highest need in the city, you would find all of the following services available:
The evidenced-based, nurse-family partnership program has shown great results with families in communities where it’s been implemented. The basic idea is to provide home visitations by nurses to first-time, mostly low-income or single mothers, both during their pregnancy and through the child’s infancy. This program should be standard operating procedure in all communities. There shouldn’t be a mother in Southeast or Mid-City who is not served.
For families that find themselves needing interventions, theCultural Broker program, which serves families at risk of becoming involved in the child welfare or Child Protective Services systems, has had incredible results of keeping families together through counseling and working closely with CPS. This program should be institutionalized in all communities as well.
We should also have youth mentors who provide after-school programs, tutoring and organize events for youth who live in these communities. This can be achieved through collaboration with the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Clubs and area schools so that youth can be engaged with their communities. Existing youth programs like the READY program and Paving Great Futures should be encouraged to flourish.
There should be a community-led leadership organization like the Broadway Heights Community Council in all of San Diego’s neighborhoods. That could happen by making the effort a planning department initiative. The formation of such groups would foster neighborhood cohesion and safety.
In regard to schools, teachers need to be trained in trauma impacts so that they recognize the symptoms in the students they are working with. Principals should partner with community leaders and provide some services as well. We believe this will encourage caring and bring students back to class. The Roses in Concrete program in East Oakland is a great model.
And in regard to law enforcement, police officers should be trained to be outreach officers working in communities, much like they used to back in the day. That doesn’t mean that they won’t arrest people. But their focus would be more community-integrated. Officers would be trained to refer families to appropriate service providers, interact in communities and be seen frequently walking in neighborhoods so they’re visible and present.
Also, the National Conflict Resolution Center’s effort in City Heights and the new one in Southeast to keep first-time offending kids from entering the juvenile justice system should be quickly expanded to other under-served neighborhoods.
Finally, when someone from our community is arrested and jailed, how about giving that person more therapeutic services and offering true rehabilitation?
These ideas are not radical. They are not expensive. They are possible if our community wants this to happen and is willing to work together.
Lynn Sharpe Underwood is a community advocate, an adjunct faculty member at Alliant University and the former executive director of San Diego’s Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention.