PICO BLVD — The Pico Youth & Family Center will stay open for another year on city funds as a drop-in and referral center under a proposal that will go before the City Council Tuesday night.

The center would get $225,000 to remain accessible to its clients through the 2013-14 year, almost $100,000 less than the funds for which it competed with a coalition of other service providers this spring.

The remainder of the money will support the Youth Resource Team, a group focused on young people between 16 and 24 under the umbrella of the city’s own Cradle to Career initiative, which aims to support kids from infancy through employment.

Officials from the Community & Cultural Services Department made the decision to put money behind the center in reaction to a series of shootings that rocked the Santa Monica community in early June. City officials twice recommended that the City Council cut funds to PYFC because of what they called “bad management practices.”

The center was working on a transition plan to find money independent of City Hall, but it was still struggling to do so and officials decided that it was not time to close any doors, said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.

“They needed time to raise the money and the community needed the time,” Rusk said.

Rusk would not say whether or not the center would have received funds had June remained peaceful, although some with knowledge of the process said there was no intention to give the center money.

Oscar de la Torre, founder of PYFC and former executive director, thought it was clear.

“No, this was politics,” de la Torre said.

Officials came to the City Council a year ago asking council members to consider taking grant funds from PYFC, pointing to an inability to show documented results despite over $3 million in public funds that had gone to support the center.

Council members agreed to a six-month “Last Chance Agreement” to carry the organization through the end of the year, but at the end of that period officials still recommended against giving the organization money, pointing to the flight of half of its board.

Rather than take the money away, the City Council funded PYFC for another six months while de la Torre stepped down as executive director and officials prepared a competitive bidding process for over $300,000 that would have flowed to the center.

Three teams competed for the cash promised by an initiative that asked service providers to provide a comprehensive suite of services to help older youth, including mental health services, job training and education.

PYFC was included in a coalition with Homeboy Industries, well-known in Los Angeles for its work with previously incarcerated adults. The two called the coalition Santa Monica Youth Alliance.

They competed against the First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Jewish Vocational Services, but a review panel composed of city officials and community members decided that none of the three covered all of the ground requested in the initial call for proposals.

Each was a little different, but none offered the full array of services like outreach, case management, community-based mental health, family support, educational re-engagement and follow up services requested by the RFP, according to a report.

“If it doesn’t all come together, it doesn’t work for people,” Rusk said. “It’s not effective.”

The call for proposals went out just as the Cradle to Career group began digging into data gathered at the end of 2012 called the Youth Wellbeing Report Card, an accumulation of publicly available information that gave a view of how well Santa Monica’s young people were doing.

The 2010 Healthy Kids Survey, which was used for the report, showed that almost one third of high school juniors reported periods of “extreme sadness and hopelessness” in the past year, and that 52 percent had used alcohol or street drugs in the previous month.

As City Hall asked another coalition of groups to solve the problems highlighted in the report, members of the Cradle to Career initiative realized that the group of partners that had been assembled had the capacity to address the same issues, Rusk said.

“The (request for proposals) came out on a parallel track, and now we’re in a moment where it’s all coming together,” she said.

In the meantime, PYFC can continue to serve the community as a safe place for youth to spend time and get access to other services rather than a provider of those services, a role it was supposed to fill in the past, but failed to provide documentation of success.

That model will never solve the problems in the community, de la Torre believes.

“At-risk youth do not work well with referrals,” he said, pointing to John Zawahri, the 23-year-old man behind shootings in early June that left six dead, including himself.

“There were referrals made to him and his mother. That’s the whole point — you need a relationship,” de la Torre said.

The City Council will take up the issue on Tuesday night as part of a wide-ranging budget discussion that will target municipal money for the next two years.

Councilmember Bob Holbrook said he would keep an open mind when it came to plans to help Santa Monica’s youth.

“If the city has a plan that will make it more inclusive, that will be a welcomed plan,” Holbrook said. “I don’t think change has to be change for the purpose of change alone, and not without the goal of improving services.”

 

 

ashley@smdp.com