Second miracle the goal

Since last spring, leaders in the world of violence-intervention from across the city have been conjuring up ideas and tactics to bring back the best aspects of the Boston Miracle, the citywide collaboration that brought the city's homicide rate crashing down from the triple digits in 1990 to 31 by 1999.

Backed by a $26 million fundraising goal from The Boston Foundation - the StreetSafe effort is focused on some 2,000 "proven-risk" people from age 16 to 24 - those who have already tangled with the law or joined a gang. Others termed "high-risk" such as drug users, truants and dropouts will be a lower priority.

Of the five focus areas involved, three cover parts of Dorchester and one borders Mattapan.

"It's going to be a great opportunity to rebuild," said Jorge Martinez of Project RIGHT. "We need to change something drastically here and it's us. The 'us' is the organizations and the government. We have to push the envelope."

The heart of the effort will be 25 "violence interrupters" - essentially street workers - who will be free to work the late-night shift and won't be turned away for having a criminal record. The city's street worker program has been hamstrung since the late 90s by union rules that have required a 9 p.m. quitting time and a requirement that all municipal employees pass CORI checks.

It will also include funneling those 'proven risk' individuals into the city's Youth Options Unlimited job-training program, which will get a funding boost to pay its new trainees. Formerly known and widely praised as Youth Opportunity, the agency already works with some tough cases, according to director Michael Mitchell. The program now gets its referrals from parole offices, the DYS and others and offers a stipend during job training.

"They realized that we were the only ones across the city doing this kind of work," said Mitchell.

Also, each of the five neighborhood clusters of youth-violence stakeholders that helped create the plan will continue to meet and aid the interrupters, with at least $50,000 a year each to administer the powerful new networks.

Further, there will be an undisclosed amount of money distributed to various organizations in the neighborhoods to build capacity for key services such as mental health counseling and case management. Each cluster submitted their own proposals for this aspect and expect to hear back from The Boston Foundation on Monday. TBF is scheduled to formally announce the full initiative on Wednesday.

Spokesperson David Trueblood has denied access to the meetings and withheld all but the most basic information about the process since the Reporter first noted the ongoing meetings in July. He and others at TBF - including director Paul Grogan - did not return phone calls asking for comment this week.

StreetSafe's neighborhood clusters are headed up by leaders of non-profits, such as Egobudike Ezedi of the Roxbury YMCA in Grove Hall, Vanessa Calderón-Rosado of I.B.A. in the South End, and Andrea Swain of the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club in Dudley Square. Or, by the leaders of city of Boston community centers, such as Troy Smith who heads up the Morton and Norfolk Street area and Gloria Moon who brings together Uphams Corner, Fields Corner, Four Corners and Bowdoin-Geneva.

"I just like the fact that they decided to involve the community," said Mitchell. "The only way we're going to solve this is by working together. The idea is good. Let's just hope the implementation is properly done and we have a second miracle."

As could be expected, there has been some confusion about how the program would ultimately look among the many stakeholders. A tension exists between TBF's plan to centralize some of the services, such as the job-training, versus boosting organizations ability to provide them in the neighborhoods.

Some question, for instance, whether gang-involved kids will find it safe to travel to Dudley Square to participate in Youth Options Unlimited's program.

Others see potential challenges in centralizing the violence interrupters under the Black Ministerial Alliance - an organization that has never been a service provider - even though the program will be managed by Chris Byner of the city's current street worker program and the new interrupters will be trained jointly by the Boston Public Health Commission and The Medical Foundation.

Judith Kurland, chief of staff for Mayor Thomas Menino who participated in high-level planning for StreetSafe, said that the potential challenge was seen as a strength by the shapers.

"Part of the attraction is because they did not provide services," said Kurland. "Sometimes it is nice to have an agency that is connected to all of the providers that doesn't provide services. You don't want that someone to be the coordinator that already has the answer."

Overall though, discussions over the finer points haven't clouded the sense of hope that the process has brought to the throngs that work to stem violence in the city. So far, the initiative has raised $7.5 million towards the $26 million goal.

"This is probably the biggest and most funded initiative in the nation and it goes on for four years," said Emmett Folgert. "That's all good. Now we're hammering out the details of how to implement something like this."

After the initial four years, TBF has penciled in two transitional years to work to give the network they fund a life of its own.

"Once we see what's working we need to think about the longer term," said Kurland. "You have to show them a different future, and then help them see the utility and attractiveness of a different way of being. We're hoping this becomes a part of state and federal policy."