As Non-Profit Funds Decline, More Youth on The Streets
Community Media Workshop examines the potential increase in youth violence as non-profit programs are cut throughout Chicago.
By Andrea Hart and Nina Limbeck
“The city is not investing in youth development programs,” said Maurice Perkins, president of the Bronzeville-based Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation, Inc. (ICYAF), a non-profit that helps inner-city residents deal with their financial, health and educational problems.
But his organization and many like it are struggling to do their jobs.
Since the recession began in 2008, Perkins’ organization has lost 75 percent of its funding, scaled back its staff and discontinued its free programming.
“When Blagojevich was in office we had about 40 to 50 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 having conservation jobs in the community—none of that is available now,” Perkins said. “We hoped funding would come back, but when things that have been given to the City of Chicago in funds and stimulus, it never reaches the African American community.”
ICYAF is one of 25 youth-oriented non-profits Community Media Workshop (CMW) surveyed recently about the decline in funding. Roughly 52 percent of groups interviewed said their budgets have been cut.
In some cases, groups have lost three-fourths of their funding forcing them to shut down or dramatically reduce their work. This was the case for Life Directions, a non-profit that facilitates peer mentorship for at-risk youth that has gone from working with eight to two schools.
Between Friends, a similarly strapped group that focuses on domestic violence prevention, has seen its budget shrink by two-thirds in the past four years. As a result, it has turned to Master of Social Work interns to cope with staff losses.
“The recession has hurt nonprofits locally and throughout the country‑ you’ve got more people jumping in the pool because more people need it, so it ends up being a vicious circle,” said Greg Jackson, executive director of the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention.
While there’s no proof that a decrease in non-profit funding leads to an increase in crime, he warn that such cutbacks can leave youth more vulnerable.
“If you’re not out there able to raise prevention efforts and you can’t contribute to that work, then those risk factors aren’t going to be reduced and the inevitable will take place,” Jackson said.
Mike Diamond, executive director of the Chicago Student Health Force, echoed Jackson’s sentiments.
“The high school students I work with in Austin are living a very fragile existence.” Diamond said, “In an organized program they’re [the students] are off the streets and they’re protected by people. Just going back and forth to work they are vulnerable to other pressures.”
Roughly 700 teens were victims of violence in 2010, with 66 of those fatally wounded, WBEZ reported in May. Over the past three years, 260 Chicago Public School students have been lost to violence, according to figures presented on Oct. 31 at a St. Sabina’s vigil that commemorated the victims.
“One of the protective factors is job creation that’ll get kids off the street and reduce youth violence,” Jackson said, adding that vocational training should be skills-focused.
As teen joblessness in Illinois has reached a staggering 47.7 percent for African American youth, compared to 24.7 percent among white youth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, state budget cuts and delays leave little hope for coping with the problem.
Indeed, a majority of the organizations CMW interviewed said their programs are currently or will likely jeopardized by state funding issues.
“We are glad to have the [fiscal] contract with the Department of Corrections, but we get paid every nine months because of the problems the state is facing, “ Perkins said of ICYAF’s program for transitional living and life skills for ex-offenders.
As of October 2011, IDOC has $81 million in pending vouchers to state vendors, according to research by the Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. Meanwhile the Department of Human Services, which provides violence and abuse prevention programs, is currently holding $254.6 million.
“When the organization loses it’s funding or cuts back, these students are, especially the ones getting income, are in a difficult situation,” Diamond said highlighting recent cuts in After School Matters, “How do students even get to these programs if they don’t have CTA fare to get there?”
“I get the sense that it’s going to get a lot worse.”
This story is part of the We Are Not Alone on youth violence: chicagoistheworld.org/notalone
It appeared in the Chicago Crusader: