“Any of my peers could bring a gun to school. They’re not checked.”

“You’re not necessarily crazy or extremely sad. You may just need someone to talk to.”

Those were just two of the comments, one about safety, the other about mental health, expressed Monday night at the Youth Town Hall meeting, involving members of the city’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) at the Civic Center as well as comments from the audience.

The 11-person Youth panel sat in the seats normally occupied by City Council, and talked about some of the same issues, but from the perspective of those in high school (along with one college student also on the panel).

Members of the Youth Advisory Committee.

Some saw a direct relationship between violence and mental health problems.

9th grader Devin Cravens, a YAC member, said it’s critical to “let students know they have someone to talk with, so they don’t start doing dangerous things.”

There was a call for more social workers, therapists and counselors at Evanston Township High School, as well as more direct focus on social-emotional learning (SEL).

One student said online lessons regarding SEL can be close to useless.

“A lot of my peers just press anything to get over it, and then get back on their phones.”

More person-to-person instruction, that student noted, could truly help.

The discussion of safety and violence saw some of the same dilemmas faced by adults when trying to figure out what, if anything, can be done.

The same student who said it was easy to bring a weapon to school ackowledged a “real push-pull” on gun safety.

YAC members Jude Foran and Olivia Ohlson review policy suggestions.

If metal detectors were installed, he noted, “people would feel over-policed.”

Starting anti-gun education early in life, he said, could be helpful.

But another student, just one, said she’d like to be able to bring pepper spray to school.

“We should have little things to protect ourselves,” she added.

Other issues of concern were the need for more affordable housing in Evanston, and reducing the wealth and resource disparity between the city’s affluent and less-wealthy wards.

12th grader and YAC member Nathan Shoenthal called for “resistribution of funds and resources to wards impacted by redlining.”

Of course, as with adults, it’s easy to say what’s wrong, and a lot harder to fix those things.

But the Advisory Council will soon start working on an ordinance — the subject to be determined — to present to the actual City Council.

Olivia Ohlson, an ETHS sophomore and YAC member, said “listening to youth voices is not something politicans should do. It’s something they must do.”

It was mentioned that $3 million has been set aside in the city budget for citizen-prioritized projects, so that may be how the students will suggest paying for their priorities.

Mayor Daniel Biss told the students that the financial reality is that they won’t be able to accomplish everything they want.

Mayor Daniel Biss called the Youth Town Hall “a really powerful night.”

But he also told them to push as hard as they can.

“Stay in the game,” the mayor said. “Don’t take no for an answer, and you’ll change the world.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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