A state-funded program to boost youth violence prevention efforts in Massachusetts is at risk of losing all funding after only a handful of years after its initial creation.
The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, a violence prevention program aimed at young men between the ages 14 and 24 in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, is at risk of losing its funding from the state. The Senate has funded the program in its budget for FY 2014 at $4 million, $6 million less than what was allocated for the 11 communities participating last year, which includes Springfield and Holyoke in the western part of the state. The House budget proposal includes no funding for the SSYI program.
The program was first announced in May 2011 by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration and worked with lawmakers to create laws that would hold so-called “high impact” individuals more accountable for gun violence and would employ key community-based strategies. The SSYI focuses on deterring youth impacted by violence with employment, education, and support programs, creating peaceful communities through youth leadership and out-of-school programs, facilitating community re-entry, and focusing on getting guns off the street.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said that as one of the 11 communities participating in the SSYI programs, it’s already made a big impact on the safety of the community by reducing gang violence.
"To lose this funding would very much impact the way we address public safety issues here in Holyoke because obviously we have limited resources," said Morse. "We've been able to use our resources creatively but these funds have allowed us to tackle public safety from a more comprehensive angle."
The SSYI Advocacy Coalition was recently created to communicate to lawmakers to continue the program at full funding. At a press conference earlier this month, coalition members from across the state came together to make their case for the program. In a video posted to YouTube, a man identified as Ivan who worked with service workers at Straight Ahead Ministries in Lynn shared his experience with the SSYI program.
According to the SSYI Advocacy Group, since the program was created, aggravated assault offenders aged 14-24 in SSYI communities dropped 14 percent. 14-24 year old homicide victims dropped 46 percent. SSYI identified 1,408 proven at risk youth, and 1,058 were contacted.
The fate of the program lies in state budget negotiations between members of the House and Senate.
Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield said that she hopes that her fellow lawmakers can not only restore funding to the program, but eventually work to expand the SSYI to other Gateway Cities, including Pittsfield. She said that it puts cities and towns at a disadvantage to pull the rug out from under a program that requires so much effort and has been proven effective.
"When we invest in youth...we have to be invested for the long term and when we go from one program to the next we don't have enough time to build foundations," said Farley-Bouvier.