Thursday, January 24, 2008
Salinas gang recruiters work the streets daily, so the city of Salinas and Silver Star Resource Center want to even out the competition. The agencies hope to mobilize a gang prevention team that would reach out to vulnerable youth, crime victims and their families, and refer them to social services.
“We know that there are people out there that could use the resources but don’t necessarily take advantage of them,” says Trevor Iida, the city’s community safety director.
To fund the program, Salinas and Silver Star have applied for a $500,000 grant under the governor’s anti-gang initiative, California Gang Reduction Intervention and Prevention Program. The state Office of Emergency Services says it will award about $8.3 million worth of CalGRIP grants to cities and community-based organizations near the end of the month.
If the grant comes through, Bob Reyes, Monterey County probation services manager, says it will add a community outreach component to the Silver Star Resource Center. The center, which is housed at the old Natividad hospital site, gets referrals from school districts and gives youth access to a myriad of services, including gang intervention, mental health counseling and job placement.
“If we had staff out in the community, recognized staff that can be right there on the spot to link kids to resources, we’d get more people,” Reyes says.
Silver Star isn’t the only Salinas gang prevention organization crossing its fingers for a state grant. Second Chance Youth Program has applied for a $200,000 grant from CalGRIP’s community-based organization fund. Brian Contreras, Second Chance’s executive director, says the money would go to hiring street-smart staff to do gang intervention, including visiting shooting victims and their families at the hospital. “The biggest effect is to try to reduce the amount of retaliatory incidents,” Contreras says.
Contreras has reservations about the grant’s future, however, given the state’s projected $14.5 billion deficit. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed giving the Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy only $1.3 million next fiscal year. “That means we hire people to fill our positions and there is no money next year,” Contreras says.
Money also will be coming from City Hall, albeit not as fast as expected. The Salinas City Council has pledged $1 million toward gang prevention and intervention programs. Mayor Dennis Donohue originally planned to dish out the money in the fall. Now he says it will be spring or summer. “Things have gone a little bit slower than anticipated,” he admits.
Donohue says he expects the money to go toward literacy programs, so Salinas children will have a better chance at succeeding in school, adding that the city could be a model for reversing the national decline in reading.
To this end, Donohue wants every first grader to have a library card by the end of 2008. Library Director Elizabeth Martinez says she hopes all 7,400 Alisal Union School District students will have cards before summer.
“We know that people that read don’t end up in jail,” Martinez says. “They probably are not going to be involved in any crime or any of the ills of society.”