Youth Program Gets Eleventh-hour Save


Posted: September 05, 2007

CUE THE BUGLES, and watch the horizon for a big white horse galloping into the city. That would be the one ridden by state Rep. Dwight Evans, who will be carrying some of the money required to help keep the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership alive.

His first stop will be City Hall, where he'll be collecting enough additional money from Mayor Street to actually expand the program.

This 11th-hour move was necessary after it was revealed that this highly regarded program - one that helps turn violent youthful offenders into productive adults - had lost its state funding in a recent round of budget cuts. By now, it's an article of faith that many Pennsylvania legislators are resistant to funding anything designed to cope with the crisis of its largest cities. In this case, the crisis is an epidemic of homicide in Philadelphia and other cities in the commonwealth.

For the past few years, since federal funding dried up, the state has funded the YVRP with a big push from Evans, who saw it as part of his Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia program. All indications were that funding would not only be continued, but also expanded. The program, now in five police districts, is seen as a model around the country, not only for the number of agencies that collaborate effectively (the district attorney's office, probation/parole, the police and others), but for its one-on-one relationships with young people most at risk to getting lost to violence. The YVRP claims that in the districts it services, homicide rates have declined by 37 percent.

Unfortunately, it's also an article of faith that too often, action comes only when a budget crisis hits. And that's no way to run a state, a transit agency or an effective program. The YVRP, which targets kids 14-24 years old at the greatest risk of killing or being killed, should have a stable and steady source of revenue, not only to keep it operating, but also to expand it into other neighborhoods in the city that need help. Every kid is assigned a probation officer with a light caseload (20 compared to the usual 60 for kids) and a "street worker" who closely monitors and mentors each youth. Of the 2,000-plus youths who have been served since 1999, when the YRVP began, only 12 have been lost to murder. In the same five police districts covered by the program, 300 youths not affiliated with the program have been killed.

The state has given it $4.6 million in the last few years. Evans says he can shake $3 million out of the state, and Mayor Street is ponying up $2.6 million. That's great news.

But we shouldn't always have to rely on knights like Evans (and in this case, Street) to ride in at the last minute to fix something that should not have been broken in the first place. We should find a way to ensure a long life for this program.

Here's one idea: The state now imposes a sales tax on gun sales. Some fearless leader should look into increasing the sales tax on guns by 1 or 2 percent, and earmark that new revenue stream to fund programs like the YVRP. That would require the Revenue Department to track gun-sale taxes separately, which wouldn't be a bad idea anyway. Wouldn't it be useful to know how much money the state is making on gun sales? It's a sure bet that whatever that figure is, it's not nearly enough to offset the staggering cost we pay to keep society's gun fetish alive. *

comments powered by Disqus