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New Program to Address Youth Violence off to a Good Start, Santa Monica Officials Say

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By Daniel Larios and Jason Islas

March 2014, 2014 -- A new program designed to curb youth violence in Santa Monica by addressing its root causes is off to a good start, according to an initial report by City officials released Wednesday.

Six months after the City Council approved a $147,000 grant to fund the Youth Resource Team (YRT) 2.0, a pilot program designed to match “at-risk” youth between 16 and 24 years old, with vital social services, job training and housing, officials said nearly 30 of the some of the city’s neediest youth -- mostly Latino -- have gotten some help.

“Disconnected,  at-risk,  opportunity  youth  who  are  not  in  school or  working  and/or  lack positive  supportive  networks,  face  significant  barriers  transitioning  to adulthood  and attaining  self-sufficiency,” staff said.

“The barriers include difficulty in navigating complex family, behavioral, economic, academic and social issues,” staff said.

In order to combat these problems, YRT 2.0 has set up shop in Virginia Avenue Park in the heart of one of Santa Monica’s traditionally underserved Pico Neighborhood, where, last summer seven people were killed in a rash of shootings.

In June, 23-year-old John Zawahri was shot dead by police after he killed five people -- including his brother and father -- in a shooting rampage that ended at Santa Monica College. Just a few days later, another person was killed in a gang related shooting only blocks away from Zawahri’s Pico Neighborhood house. (“One Dead, One Wounded in Another Santa Monica Shooting,” June 11, 2013)

City Hall responded by calling for closer collaboration between the organizations that make up Santa Monica’s vast network of nonprofits and social services. (“City Calls for Closer Collaboration to Solve Santa Monica's Youth Violence Problem,” June 19, 2013)

YRT 2.0, a revamping of a similar program started by the City in 2006, works with 15 different agencies in order to “to assess and address the needs of the individual youth and their families using a holistic approach rather than working in isolation,” staff said.

That collaborative model, the “backbone” of which is St. Joseph Center, allows for fewer youth to fall through the cracks, staff said.

While the report shows that YRT 2.0 has been largely successful in connecting “at-risk” youth to housing and mental health services, there is more work to be done.

“The first six months of programming has revealed the on-going need to leverage non-city resources such as county public benefits and federal housing resources to address the wellbeing of these 27 youth and their families,” staff said.

“The most pressing needs identified to date  include  access  to  affordable  housing,  mental  health  services,  substance  abuse counseling, and early childhood education,” staff said.

The report includes a snapshot of two families -- both headed by single mothers -- who have seen nearly immediate improvements in their lives through participation in the program, according to staff.

The first family, which consists of a mother and her four children, lives in a 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, staff said.

“All four children have been identified as high- risk youth  and  are  part  of  the  YRT  2.0  cohort  due  to  untreated mental  health  symptoms, difficulty finding employment, and multiple encounters with
SMPD and/or Probation,” staff said.

The second family is “12-member household… comprised of a single mother, one minor child, four young adult children, two non-related adults and four grandchildren” all living in a two-bedroom apartment, staff said.

Members of both families have been matched with vocational training, subsidized housing and mental health services through YRT 2.0, staff said.

“Both families have responded well to YRT 2.0 intercession and have experienced improved conditions in a short period of time,” staff said.

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