CHICAGO – In response to a recent spike in violence on Chicago streets, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a comprehensive state plan to help reduce violence and save young lives. Joined by parents, community leaders, advocates, and clergy at the Martin Luther King Jr. Boys & Girls Club on the City’s west side, the Governor laid out his plan to curb the tide of violence in Illinois. The Governor’s plan, called Community Investment Works, will address a range of factors contributing to youth violence, including the lack of employment opportunities, lack of safe social and recreational opportunities, and disengagement from their communities.
Twenty-four Chicago Public Schools students have been killed this school year by gun violence, with still over a month to go before the school year concludes. That’s already as many as last year and a startling 300% increase over the two school years that ended in 2005 and 2006. And just yesterday a 20 year-old student and a 3 year-old were shot in separate incidents on Chicago’s South Side.
“Every week we're losing young lives to violence. And the trend is likely to get worse as schools let out and young people have even more free time. Parents, friends and neighbors are crying out to their elected leaders for help. We have to do something meaningful to turn things around – and we have to do it soon,” said Governor Blagojevich. “That's why I reached out to organizations in the communities that have been impacted the most to find out how the state can help give young people hope and the opportunity to grow up in a safe community. By putting State support behind local efforts that are making a difference in struggling communities, we can make a big difference. I hope lawmakers will join me in putting a state strategy in place to save our youth.”
The Governor is proposing $150 million in targeted investment in areas that can have the most dramatic and direct impact on young people’s choices and behaviors. The Community Investment Works plan will invest:
$30 million for the Governor’s Summer Youth Employment Program to provide up to 20,000 job opportunities for kids statewide. The majority of positions will be in 39 “high need” communities.
$20 million in grants to community providers for after-school and unattended youth programs that make sure kids have safe and productive options during non-school hours, including evenings.
$100 million to rebuild deteriorating neighborhoods, support local businesses and stimulate job growth in at-risk communities, and equip law enforcement with advanced field technology to boost public safety.
Funding for the new plan would be provided in concert with the Governor’s proposed $25 billion Illinois Works capital plan.
“I applaud the Governor for developing this plan to help stop violence amongst our youth. It is our obligation to keep kids safe. Every young person should have a safe haven where they can go to learn and grow, free from danger,” said Steve Cole, CEO of YMCA Metropolitan Chicago.
“Day after day, more innocent lives are being lost to this irrational and mindless violence. Kids in our city are discovering how easy it is to pick up a gun and disengage from life,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Catholic Church. “The Governor’s plan offers sensible and concrete ways to get our children off the streets and become engaged once again in their neighborhoods. Community Investment Works is a step forward towards peace and towards healing our bleeding communities.”
“This senseless violence has got to stop. We can’t change the past, but we can work hard to keep our kids alive and bring peace to our communities.” said Rev. Tolliver, St. Edmund's Episcopal Church. “With the Governor’s new Community Investment Works plan, we can make a significant investment in our youth and begin to turn this situation around.”
According to a survey of employed youth conducted by the Youth Violence Prevention Center and the University of Michigan, youth who worked were less likely to engage in risky behaviors during the times they were employed as compared to before they had employment also indicating that there were significant decreases in substance use, sexual activity, and exposure to violence. Research also shows that involvement in after-school education or recreation activities reduce young people’s chances of getting in trouble. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, after controlling for a variety of factors, found that tenth graders who spent no time in school-sponsored extracurricular activities were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested than students who spent one to four hours in extracurricular activities.
“We must put an end to violence by stabilizing our communities. By creating jobs for our youth and helping neighborhoods revitalize and rebuild, our children can thrive in environments that will help them lead productive and successful lives. I want to commend the Governor for launching this initiative,” said Maria Pesquiera, CEO/President of Mujeres Latina en Accion.
“I think this is a good plan, because it’ll help kids stay out of trouble and save lives. We just want to be able to walk to school or get on the bus without having to worry about someone pulling out a gun,” said Mario Sendejas, an 18-year old from Little Village who attends Latino Youth Alternative School.
The Governor’s Community Investment Works plan would invest $30 million to support up to 20,000 jobs for young people aged 15 to 22 in the most high-risk communities throughout the state. Jobs would place youth in community development and beautification jobs such as volunteering to work with the elderly or cleaning up a dirty lot and planting a community garden. They’ll be able to earn a decent wage while they improve their own communities and learn valuable job skills. Younger teens, aged 13 and 14, who are not allowed to work could participate in a community development internship and receive a stipend at the end of the summer for school supplies.
In addition, the Governor’s Community Investment Works plan would provide $20 million in grants to community providers that will offer education, recreational or other community-driven programs during non-school hours. Grants will be designed to support programs that offer: recreational evening activities such as evening basketball and “youth cafes”; mentoring and leadership programs such as partnering with professional organizations to mentor youth; educational enrichment activities such as those that have a focus on academics, arts, life skills and/or vocational skills; and expansion of existing after-school and unattended youth programs.
“Youth violence has gripped our society, not just in Chicago but across America. It is not just an urban problem, but it is a rural, suburban and cross-cultural problem. We as responsible adults and young people must work together collectively to decrease and stem the flow of violence, particularly gun violence, among our youth. That involves a collective effort on the part of educational leaders, faith-based institution leaders, community leaders, business leaders, and law enforcement agencies,” said Ronald Holt, a Chicago Police Officer who lost his son to gun violence a year ago. “We need to teach our good behaving, law-abiding children the idea of peer-to-peer collaboration with at-risk youth who are prone to violence, to draw them away from gangs, guns, drugs, and violence.”
The Governor’s plan also recognizes the importance safe physical surroundings and a vibrant local economy have on crime levels. The Community Investment Works plan invests $100 million total in revitalization, economic development and public safety. Of the $100 million, half will be used for a competitive grant program through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to fund community-based redevelopment or renewal projects that put people to work and restore neighborhood integrity. Eligible projects must be in economically distressed or high crime area and will include efforts like vacant building acquisition by not-for-profit organizations, vacant land redevelopment, community center expansion or restoration, recreation facilities and mixed-use developments.
Another $40 million will be directed to the proposed Illinois Community Assets Fund (under DCEO) to support local businesses or ventures that will create jobs. Funding will be provided as grants to local community development groups, financial institutions and directly to businesses or communities that can demonstrate immediate job growth from projects. Because the funding comes in the form of grants, organizations can take more risk on programs for their communities.
The remaining $10 million in rebuilding funds will be used to support a competitive grant program to help local police departments buy equipment that can help officers be more effective in the field.
People who want more information on the Community Investment Works plan, or who want to join the effort to pass a comprehensive anti-violence plan should visit www.illinois.gov/community.