A hearing held Tuesday at Boston City Hall shined a light on a problem that makes many people uncomfortable to talk about, let alone take concrete steps to address it. Many of our teenagers are engaged in risky sexual behaviors and it has become a national public health crisis.
Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley has proposed a new sexual health education program that would include making condoms more widely available in Boston’s public high schools. Her proposal is firmly grounded in realism and should be adopted by the city this year.
As the councillor said Tuesday, “I wish our young people would wait as long as possible to become sexually active, wait until they’re older, more emotionally mature, better prepared to deal with the consequences, and in a healthy, safe, and exclusive relationship with a loving partner. But a solution based on wishing our young people would wait to have sex and do nothing else is no solution at all.”
The facts, laid out in the hearing by the chief of the city’s Public Health Commission, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, have been reported here before— but they are nonetheless startling. More than half of Boston high school students are sexually active and 30 percent of that group do not use condoms, according to surveys cited by Ferrer.
A 2006 research study found that 7,333 Dorchester females and 1,767 Dorchester males (ages 15-18) were diagnosed with chlamydia that year. The report also shows disproportionate rates of new cases of chlamydia reported in Dorchester and Mattapan; the rates were more than 50 percent higher than that of Boston overall. And the problem is getting worse citywide: Boston has seen a 74 percent increase in chlamydia over the past ten years.
There are already condom-distribution points in nine of the city’s eleven public high schools. But students only have access to them if they are registered to use health clinics in the school. If we are serious about reducing the spread of STDs, broader access to condoms is a common-sense step in the right direction.
– Bill Forry
Tough sign of tough times
The special report in last week’s Reporter revealed eye-popping statistics about the increasing ranks of our neighbors in need of government assistance to feed themselves and their families. Roughly one-third of Dorchester residents are now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — an increase of more than 50 percent in the last four years. Almost 17,000 Dorchester residents have signed up for food stamps in the last four years, mirroring a state and national rise that has been fueled by job loss and a slumping economy.
State officials in charge of the program argue that the big increase is partly explained by better outreach to needy, eligible people — the “working poor”— who didn’t get the assistance before, including cash-strapped elders. But it’s also clear that the food stamp rolls have swelled because of basic, unmet needs of families that are truly struggling.
It’s also clear that the program has become a central component of the local economy. Some $57.7 million was pumped into food markets and convenience stores last year – just from Dorchester residents using food stamps. Most of that money — $41 million— was spent at stores in Dorchester and Mattapan, led by the Stop & Shop at South Bay. As our elected representatives in Congress weigh cuts to this and other social service programs, we hope they keep in mind the dramatic impact it will have on neighborhoods like ours.