City Council members this week indicated strong support for spending $867,500 of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for programs aimed at reducing youth violence.

The package of proposals was up for discussion at Monday night’s special City Council meeting and the members present voted 6-0 to advance the measures as a special order of business for the Council’s Jan. 10 meeting.

Monday’s meeting was called to discuss how the city can respond to an increase in youth violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more immediately to a shooting incident Nov. 28 on Green Bay Road that left one teenager dead and four others wounded, as well as last Thursday’s lockdown at Evanston Township High School following the discovery of two guns at the school.

Community Services Manager Audrey Thompson said the city’s existing youth and young adult programs appear to have been effective in reducing the number of youths arrested over the last few years.

She blamed an increase in shootings this year on a trend toward criminals using “more deadly” guns that can fire more bullets faster.

Thompson’s proposal calls for:

  • Adding sixth full-time youth outreach worker to the city’s staff at an annual cost of $100,000.
  • Adding a variety of civic responsibility and engagement programs for youth and their parents at a cost of $82,500.
  • Adding workforce development programs at a cost of $315,000 to encourage city departments and private employers to hire youths in need of jobs and provide job readiness training.
  • Creating alternative recreation programs including after school programs at city recreation centers and forming several new block clubs around the city at a cost of $200,000.

The city currently operates a variety of programs targeted to disengaged youth to attempt to redirect them to productive careers and avoid participating in violent and criminal behavior. She said she also hopes to expand the age range of persons eligible for the program from the current 14-24 to 14 to 29, and also explore expanding the services to middle-school age students.

Thompson says she’s working with 15 organizations and agencies to implement various aspects of the program and hopes to establish additional partnerships in the future.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she was pleased that Thompson plans to extend the coverage of the program to persons up to 29 years old, from the current age cutoff of 24. She said Thompson had offered “a wonderful presentation” of the city’s existing programs and the various new initiatives.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said, “I’m glad we have someone with your capability heading this effort, someone who has a clear and deep understanding of what’s needed.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.