The Street Outreach Worker Program (SOWP) utilizes a “Public Health” risk reduction model with the goal of decreasing violence among teens and young adults. The SOWP employs several best practice strategies including: 1) outreach and engagement of youth at high risk of gun violence; 2) maintaining a presence in neighborhoods where youth gun violence occurs and intervening in potentially violent situations to head off violence (a concerted effort to separate youth from their guns); preventing retaliation for community violence by offering nonviolent solutions and having a presence at hospitals following shootings; 3) establishing and using a network of social service referrals to provide assistance at all times to those in need; 4) creating partnerships with the City, community, schools, law enforcement, hospitals, faith-based and service provider organizations to help create a comprehensive response to gun violence in the city; 5) advocating for teens and young adults, to help youth negotiate challenges they encounter in court, schools and community.
The Street Outreach Worker
Street Outreach Workers (SOWP) are culturally competent and reflect the populations they serve, act as positive mentors to at-risk youth, Connect youth to services, intervene in situations of potential violence, and respond when violence has occurred. Workers engage youth in their communities, in their homes, on street corners, in parks, at community events and in any spaces where these youth spend time. Outreach Workers are intimately familiar with the communities in which they work and are able to close the social distance between targeted youth and the resources, institutions and opportunity structures necessary to influence and help change their behaviors and play an important role in diffusing and stopping violence. These workers maintain a presence in high-crime areas of the city, provide a calming presence on the streets and mediate conflicts by providing nonviolent tools and solutions and develop long-term mentoring relationships with at risk and gang-involved youth and young adults. The program’s objectives are violence intervention through outreach, engagement, conflict resolutions, mediations, education, advocacy and mentoring for teens and young adults.
The program target population includes young people, ages 13 – 21, identified as being at very high risk for gun violence. These young people are referred by the following:
Parents, Schools, Self-Referrals
New Haven Police Department (NHPD)
Department of Probation
Since the program’s 2007 inception, youth gun violence has decreased consistently, from 72 youth victims of non-fatal shootings in the programs age cohort (13 – 21) in 2007 to 23 victims in 2015.
Homicides in this age cohort reached a high of 7 in 2010, decreased to 5 in 2011 and 2012, increased to 7 in both 2013 and 14 and saw a decrease to 4 in 2015.
This trending reflects the combined efforts of the SOWP, the return to community policing in New Haven, less tolerance for community violence in neighborhoods with high crime rates and collaborations across multiple stakeholder groups. The SOWP remains a key element in the City of New Haven’s gun violence prevention and intervention strategies. The funds allocated to support the New Haven Family Alliance, Inc. –Street Outreach Worker Program help sustain these vital on the ground interventions and contributes to saving the lives of youth at high risk of gun violence.
The Initiative has reached over 700 unduplicated youth
Community Foundation of Greater New Haven
City of New Haven
New Haven Public Schools
Other youth service providers
STREET OUTREACH WORKERS BUILD TRUST
By The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
In too many New Haven neighborhoods, just about everyone has known someone who was killed by a gun. The New Haven Street Outreach Worker Program is working to change this tragic reality one neighborhood at a time.
“We have one common goal: to save the youth,” says Doug Bethea, a veteran street outreach worker.
Bethea and the eight-member team work in the city’s toughest neighborhoods, reaching out primarily to youth ages 15 -21. They get to know the kids, mentoring the ones who are willing to accept help. They take groups on field trips and help connect them to summer jobs and scholarships. And when disputes between individuals or gangs flare up, the outreach workers intervene and try to mediate a peaceful resolution.
“We attack violence out of respect,” says David Morales, an outreach worker in Fair Haven. “Once we identify the individuals involved, we take them to an isolated area, and help them work it out away from everyone else.”
The program made headlines after sitting down two rival gangs and brokering a truce agreement over pizza and soda. To mediate agreements like this requires many hours dedicated to building personal relationships based on mutual trust.
“We have to establish credibility,” says Bethea. “You can’t do this work if you don’t have passion.”
The city launched the Street Outreach Worker Program in 2007 after homicides had climbed to the highest rate in a decade. A collaboration of the city’s community services administration, the police department, and New Haven Family Alliance, the program has been supported, in part, with multi-year investments totaling over $500,000 from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
The initiative is part of a larger strategy targeting violence, including a revival of community-based policing, the use of data-driven “hotspot” policing, and Project Longevity, a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Justice that targets gang members following a shooting.
The results have been promising. From 2007- 2011, the city saw a 31% decrease in the number of youth victims of non-fatal shootings, and the street outreach workers interventions have had a real impact by altering the outcomes of potentially deadly conflicts.
In 2012, 34 mediation agreements involving 116 individuals were reached and the outreach workers intervened to interrupt more than 160 potentially violent disputes that involved 645 youth.
The New Haven Street Outreach Worker Program was modeled on similar programs in nearby cities: The Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence in Providence RI and Boston Ceasefire. These and other similar programs across the country represent a strategic shift in how cities are trying to stop youth violence. Rather than being thought of as simply a criminal justice problem, the violence is understood as a public health problem rooted in an interplay of environmental factors such as limited opportunities for healthy adolescent development.
"... they keep their conversations with the kids confidential. This trust is essential for them to be the ones that kids turn to with a problem before it turns violent."
The street outreach workers are on the front lines of changing this environment by expanding opportunities for youth in their neighborhoods. They act as mentors, helping kids stay focused on school and positive activities. They advocate for favorable considerations for those on probation or parole. They help young men and women find jobs, and encourage them to take life skills and job readiness training offered by New Haven Family Alliance and other partners. And they help kids work through conflicts before they escalate.
The street outreach workers recruit kids through the word of mouth. The also receive referrals from the New Haven police department. To maintain credibility with the kids, however, the street outreach workers can never be seen as an arm of law enforcement. While they do not cover up for any crime, they keep their conversations with the kids confidential. This trust is essential for them to be the ones that kids turn to with a problem before it turns violent.
The street outreach workers also came from the streets, which helps give them credibility. Several of them are ex-felony offenders who have turned their lives around.
“Each one of them is not only a role model, but is a testament that you can get out of the streets, and you can have a life,” says Shirley Ellis-West, the program manager.
In Fair Haven, Morales helped 15 of his mentees find full and part-time jobs. Six who participated in the Youth at Work program were placed at the Jewish Home for the Elderly, a project that has helped both the kids and the elderly patients grow and learn from each other.
“These kids wouldn’t have gotten past the front door in order to fill out an application,” Morales said.