Safe Streets shows promise

April 21, 2010

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's suspension of public funds for Safe Streets of East Baltimore, an anti-violence program aimed at high risk youth, points to the challenges of employing formerly incarcerated people and former gang members to change the very culture they once identified with so closely ("Anti-violence group's work on hold," April 17).

However, as risky as it may seem, this approach shows much promise. Studies conducted by Public/Private Ventures and others show that such outreach or "street" workers can play a critical role in reducing violence in high crime neighborhoods. The reason is simple: high risk youth respond better to someone they feel they can relate to.

Anti-violence programs using approaches like Safe Streets of East Baltimore should take adequate steps to ensure accountability and transparency by requiring partnerships with relevant public and private agencies and creating a solid implementation, communication and collaboration structure. In addition, outreach workers should be screened, trained and supervised adequately, given the particularly sensitive nature of the job.

The suspension of public funds means that any help Safe Streets was providing to East Baltimore youth has been put on hold. The city's review of the program should be undertaken swiftly to determine if there was in fact any wrongdoing and how best to move forward so that these young people and their communities can get the support they surely need.

Wendy McClanahan, Philadelphia

The writer is the vice president for research at Public/Private Ventures.

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