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End Youth Violence

In a world in which uncertainty is often the rule, there is one constant in the lives of many young people living in Greater New Haven:  violence.  Some see violence as it occurs; others hear gunshots and the police and neighborhood activity following a shooting, or the grief expressed by neighbors and friends; and all hear stories repeated by their classmates at school.  And although the level of direct exposure differs among children and youth, the fear and anxiety it produces is widespread and has significant and long-lasting effects.

Nationwide, millions of children and adolescents are exposed to violence each year. According to a survey report published by the US Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Prevention Programs, more than 60% of children surveyed were exposed to violence in the past year, either directly or indirectly. In the year prior to completing the survey, 1 in 20 children had witnessed someone being shot.

Statistics and Efforts to Change Them

Reviewing 2009 statistics in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (the most recent data available), there were more than 3,000 reports of violent crime in Greater New Haven that year.  While most communities saw fewer than 50 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Seymour, East Haven, Milford and Hamden recorded between 50 and 100, Ansonia and Derby were at the 100 mark, and West Haven’s reported violent crimes topped 700 in that year.  The city of New Haven had nearly 1,800 reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

Responses on a survey taken in 2010 by middle school youthi in New Haven indicate that their level of involvement in and exposure to violence is significant:

  • 34% reported having seem someone get shot or stabbed
  • 17% reported having been involved in gang fights
  • 11% reported having carried a gun/weapon
  • 24% reported having hurt someone badly in a physical fight
  • 54% reported having started a fistfight or shoving match

One of the innovative efforts to deal with youth violence in New Haven is the Street Outreach Worker Program, which began in 2007. Administered by the New Haven Family Alliance and funded since its inception by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, SOWP hires men and women with “street cred,” meaning they were involved in the criminal justice system themselves at one point and have turned their lives around, or they have a deep connection to the community through some kind of service. Shirley Ellis-West, the program supervisor, says five of the eight workers are ex-offenders. Another of the workers is the founder and long-time director of an award-winning drill team.

The program operates in partnership with the New Haven Police Department and the Board of Education and focuses on young people 13 to 21. The program operates out of all ten policing districts, but focuses on six high need neighborhoods. The workers spend time in the neighborhoods at key times just getting to know young people there:  Sunday through Thursday, 2 p.m. until 10 p.m.; and weekends 7 p.m. until 3 a.m.  “They frequent identified hotspots where youth are hanging,” West says.  “They spend a lot of time doing what we call violence interruptions – young people involved in physical fights, arguments, adolescent behavior conflict.”  They also conduct scheduled mediations with two or more individuals.  In the beginning, many referrals came from the police.  Now, West says, parents call on behalf of their own children, and youth refer themselves and their friends.

A community-based participatory research project, “Understanding Youth Violence in New Haven: A Photovoice Project with Youth of New Haven,” was a research collaboration between the New Haven Family Alliance , the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale, and a group of youth participating in the Street Outreach Worker Program.  The goal of the project was to help identify, through the eyes and voices of young people directly impacted by youth gun violence, the root causes and effects of youth gun violence in their lives and in the City of New Haven.  A report on the project summarizes the key findings of this Photovoice Project and offers recommendations for action that include increasing youth career and employment opportunities, coordinated strategies to address concentrated intergenerational poverty, establishing neighborhood community centers in high risk neighborhoods and having at least one of the street outreach workers be female.   


While murder rates have generally declined in last 25 years, the trend in New Haven is more complicated. The murder rate trend is more jagged and less consistent than the decline seen in the overall violent crime rate.  Part of this is because the small number of cases makes a bigger difference in the murder rate – the number of murders per 100,000 people. But according to David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, there is likely another explanation for the spikes.  

In an October 2, 2011 interview with the New Haven Register, Kennedy said that many murders can be directly attributed to gangs, a small and violent segment of the City’s population. When a dispute between gangs creates a spark, violence explodes and murder rates soar.

Murders per 100,000 people from 1985-2010ii

West says that two truces between opposing groups of teens were agreed upon almost five years ago that are still intact, in Hill North and Dwight, adding, “Today there are definitely Bloods, Crips and other groups influencing young people” in New Haven.  There were seven homicides in the target age group in 2011, and one as of May 1, 2012.  All were African American young men.  And most of the identified perpetrators are also young African American men.  West says that, until the shooting death in October 2011 of 13-year-old Marquell Banks, no one under 16 had been killed since the outreach program began. 

She notes that in 2010 there were 54 non-fatal shootings among 13- to 21-year-olds; this decreased to 48 in that age group in 2011; and stands at 12 through March 31, 2012. “When there's an incident we go to the hospitals, we talk to the young people to prevent retaliation.”  The figure below shows an eight-year trend in violent crime arrests in New Haven and marks a general decrease in most types of crime in 2008 and 2009.

Juvinile Arrests by Type from 2001-2010

The Impact of Community Violence
Violence is Not Random
Risk Factors Identify A Place to Start

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
June 2012

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Art therapy is used to help children who have been exposed to violence express their feelings.

When compared to their non-exposed peers, children exposed to violence are at higher risk foriii:

Aggression and behavioral disorders

  • acting out behavior, aggression with peers, and self-destructive behavior
  • fighting, carrying weapons, and substance abuse
  • early and chronic involvement with the juvenile justice system and in the adult criminal justice system
  • abusive relationships, and later abusive behavior with their own children

Emotional and anxiety disorders

  • depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
  • disturbances in sleep
  • loss of appetite
  • irritability, anger, or trouble concentrating

Academic difficulties

  • higher rates of truancy
  • lower scores on math and verbal tests
  • negative interactions with their teachers

What The Community Foundation is Doing:

Many grants have been awarded by The Community Foundation to engage youth in constructive activities and help reduce youth violence in Greater New Haven. The Foundation has a long history of funding afterschool and summer programs. In addition, programs directed specifically at reducing youth violence include grants to New Haven Family Alliance (NHFA) for the City of New Haven’s Street Outreach Worker (SOW) as well as the Alliance’s Girls Beading and Life Skills programs. Through SOW, youth workers are hired and trained by NHFA to serve as mentors, educators and advocates to high-risk teens and young adults; program partners actively negotiate truces between rival groups to prevent future violence. Through the Girls’ program, conflict resolution and other life skills are taught to girls who have been engaged in fighting and bullying. The New Haven YMCA Youth Center is another grant recipient taking proactive measures to prevent violence by engaging youth in safe recreational activities.

Through its Grants $5,000 and Under process, The Community Foundation has also awarded the following grants to prevent youth violence:
• Greater New Haven NAACP’s Stop the Violence Campaign: aiming to end violence particularly as it relates to gun and drug-related crime
• Your Place Youth Center of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church: creating an alternative to gangs through teaching principles of non-violence, leadership, and other skills and engaging youth in more constructive activities
• Frontline Souljaz: building relationships, teamwork and trust through athletic activities
• CT Appleseed Center for Law & Justice: promoting anti-bullying efforts through the dissemination of an anti-bullying report
• Save Our Sons and Freddie Fixer Parade : helping ex-offenders successfully re-integrate into the community

And to help lessen the effects of exposure to violence and other trauma, Clifford W. Beers Guidance Clinic was awarded a Foundation grant to support the Clinical Collaborative Consultation Project which supports alliances with Greater New Haven youth serving organizations to address children’s mental health needs. 

What You Can Do

To help end youth violence, consider donating to a local nonprofit on, volunteering, or creating a permanent fund designated to supporting young people. Already have a fund at The Community Foundation? Recommend a grant by logging on to DonorCentral. You can create change with just a click of the keyboard.


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