VIRGINIA AVENUE PARK ‚Äî City, school district and Santa Monica College officials announced the creation of the Youth & Family Violence Prevention Fund Tuesday that they hope will propel forward efforts to address violence in the wake of three shootings in early June.
The fund, which received $50,000 in seed money from a private donor, will be used to put in place a “whatever it takes” program that chooses at-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 24 and provides a comprehensive suite of case management and other services to both them and their families.
What that will look like and how it will roll out, however, is unclear, with officials largely referencing “the work” completed last year that produced the Youth Wellbeing Report Card, an aggregation of surveys and other data that gives a picture of the state of Santa Monica‚Äôs young people.
The announcement comes in response to a series of violent deaths that shocked the Santa Monica community 10 days ago, beginning with a mass shooting on June 7 at the hands of a person with a history of mental illness and potentially gang-related shootings on June 8 and June 11.
In all, seven people died in Santa Monica in just three days.
Events spurred a response from the Cradle to Career group, a collaboration between city officials, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, SMC and various community groups, which aims to create a comprehensive network of support for young people to address issues early on and prevent the slide into violence and gang involvement.
“Although these tragic deaths are unrelated, those working on issues of violence in our community understand the profound and deep ways in which they are connected,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.
Details on exactly how much the initiative will cost or even how it will work are slim.
The agencies involved, particularly the school district and any mental health care providers, are bound by law not to share certain information that might make it possible for a municipal effort ‚Äî like an after-school program ‚Äî to target the people who need their services.
Navigating those legal boundaries will be one of the challenges in pulling the initiative off, as will the need to collect more money than just the $50,000, said Jonathan Mooney, a Santa Monica resident and consultant for the Cradle to Career initiative.
The essence of the Cradle to Career initiative, however, is the collective sense that no individual agency can solve the problems faced by youth in the community alone.
“Individual institutions did what they could,” Mooney said. “Solving any social problem is about doing it collectively.”
One major gap in services revealed by the initiative‚Äôs work is with older children and young adults, a service provided by the Pico Youth & Family Center for the last decade.
The organization was founded by school board member Oscar de la Torre after a rash of violence in 1998, and has recently been forced to compete for its contract against other applicants like Jewish Vocational Services after city officials tried to pull the plug on PYFC‚Äôs funding at a contentious City Council meeting in January.
Supporters of the center shouted out questions throughout the press conference that were largely ignored, asking why City Hall would shut the center down.
PYFC competed for its former contract against other outside organizations, and officials will announce their pick later this week in advance of the City Council‚Äôs budget discussion on Tuesday.
Although she would not say whether or not PYFC would keep its spot, Rusk did say that they did not want to “close any doors” that could provide help for those in need.
de la Torre did not mince words.
“It would be an embarrassment for the city to defund the most effective community-based response to gangs,” he said.