Street Outreach Team Regroups

December 12 2018
LINK – https://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/street_outreach_workers/

The Street Outreach Worker program, a city-supported initiative aimed at saving young lives, is winding down at the New Haven Family Alliance. A bigger version might take its place at a new nonprofit seeking to expand gun-violence interventions to hospital emergency rooms across the state.

Leonard Jahad, the Street Outreach Worker program’s manager since 2015, has set up a new nonprofit, Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, Inc., that seeks to partner with Yale-New Haven Hospital and other municipalities on a stepped-up violence intervention program.

Currently, through New Haven Family Alliance, street outreach workers — some of whom went straight after years in the criminal life — respond to the hospital emergency room after every shooting. They try to deescalate, talking down friends and family who might be aching to retaliate against the gunman.

Under a new partnership, which is still being worked out and hasn’t been formalized, street outreach workers would respond to a wider range of crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assaults. They’d also connect the victims and their families to case management for long-term support.

The Street Outreach Worker program “was founded by New Haven Family Alliance. It’s become a very valuable program, and they’ve found other ways to support it,” Mayor Toni Harp said on the latest edition of WNHH FM’s “Mayor Monday” program. “I think that actually it’s a new day.”

Concerned about New Haven Family Alliance’s sustainability, Jason Bartlett, the city’s youth services director, said he decided to put the program’s $174,000 contract out to bid for the first time in a decade. Bartlett wanted to see if another organization might be able to expand the program’s reach, particularly by connecting with local hospitals.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, he told New Haven Family Alliance that he’d pay month-to-month through the end of November. When money ran out, the Family Alliance dismissed all five street outreach workers. The Youth Services Division has since hired them all back part-time on the city’s payroll until a contract is awarded, which is expected to happen early next year.

“We’re continuing the relationship [with Yale-New Haven Hospital], even though it’s not with the Family Alliance,” Jahad said. “The work hasn’t stopped. Hopefully, we’ll expand it with grants and partnerships with other hospitals.”

After the proposals are evaluated and a winner is selected, the Street Outreach Worker program could return bigger than before. Many of the employees will likely be the same, but they could return to the job with a deeper relationship with the city’s hospitals.

The hospitals have “seen the importance of the work in stemming violence,” Mayor Harp said on air. “They want to work with the city.”

In September, Jahad attended the National Network of Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program’s annual conference in Denver to present with Yale-New Haven Hospital’s staff. That led him to the idea to expand statewide, including the 15 hospitals with urgent-care centers within Yale-New Haven Hospital’s network.

Jahad registered Connecticut Violence Intervention Program the following month. He said he hoped to broaden the work that New Haven Family Alliance had done for years, bringing it to hospitals in Bridgeport, New London and the rest of Connecticut.

“With the Family Alliance, when someone gets shot, we respond to the hospital and calm things down,” Jahad said. “I send out a text: ‘Major incident.’ They respond, ‘Where do you need us?’

“We go to the emergency room and make sure everything’s calm,” he continued. “Sometimes, the boys are going off; people are there with weapons. One of them can give you a hug, and you’ll feel it. We’ll tell them, ’You don’t need to be here.’ We’ll get them Lyfts and Ubers or go to Dunkin’ Donuts to get coffee.”

Jahad said that they’ve built up trust with doctors and security guards, too. Sometimes, he’ll ask the trauma surgeon to stay with the family for “10 more seconds” to clarify the victim’s condition.

Once the situation’s under control, the outreach workers turn their attention to supporting the victim. “We start to talk to them. It’s not ‘What happened?’ It’s ‘What can we help you with? What do you need? A job? Whatever led you to this, we’re going to try to help you.’

“It’s been a good partnership, and we want to expand that,” Jahad concluded. “Now that they’re going to issue a [request for proposals], I may take a look at that. We’ve actually done the work, and we’ve gotten really good at what we do.”

A spokesman for Yale-New Haven Hospital said that there’s “no formal relationship” with Jahad’s group.

“While we have no formal relationship, over the last several years we have worked with street outreach workers dedicated to the de-escalation of violence,” said the spokesman, Mark D’Antonio. “We do not fund these positions, which are primarily based in the community, but we have provided uniforms for those involved.”

Barbara Tinney speaks to the Board of Education about New Haven Family Alliance.The New Haven Family Alliance kicked off the Street Outreach Worker program in 2007, based on a model that contributed to a drop in homicides in Providence, R.I.

The nonprofit initially hired nine full-time workers — all with “street cred,” sometimes from past criminal records — to function as mentors, social workers, advocates and mediators

At first, they focused on approximately 200 city kids, ages 11 to 21, whom the police had identified as most likely to commit dangerous crimes.

Barbara Tinney, the Family Alliance’s longtime executive director who just retired, called them the “throwaway kids” whom no one had tried to reach.

At first, the police couldn’t figure out how to keep their distance from the program, as the outreach workers openly negotiated truces between warring gangs without the threat of arrests. “Its felons helping felons,” then-Chief James Lewis said some of his officers felt, a year in.

Jahad said that relationship has flipped, with law enforcement now referring teens to the Street Outreach Worker program rather than locking them up.

“Before, all they did was prosecute,” he said. “Now, we’ll get calls from the police, especially locally. Even the feds, they’ll call us up and ask us to talk to kids before it gets too far.”

Their work eventually became a foundational part of Youth Stat, the Harp administration’s initiative to put students in danger of dropping out or being locked up back on track to graduate.

Jahad said that the street outreach workers contributed to a ceasefire, after several bloody years of gun violence.

“We’ve always had good success with what we do,” he said. “When you compare us to Bridgeport and Hartford in shots fired, the non-fatals, we’re way under.”

Aware of the recent shakeups at New Haven Family Alliance, city officials decided to put their contract out to bid.

The solicitation says the city is looking for someone who has “demonstrated experience” partnering with the federal government and neighborhood groups, an agreement with a local hospital, a proposal for integrating Youth Stat within the schools and a plan for targeting services in the Quinnipiac Meadows area.

Jahad said Connecticut Violence Intervention Program might fit the bill, though he hadn’t submitted anything to the city yet.

He said the non-profit uses the research-based Cure Violence model that’s reduced shootings in New York City. “It treats crime like you’d treat a disease, addressing the symptoms and stopping the spread,” he said.

He added that the non-profit will try to formalize a partnership with Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Housing Authority of New Haven. “We want to continue the work in whatever capacity,” he said. “We just want consistency, whatever it’s going to be.”