Aldermen: Is city spending youth crime prevention money properly?

Aldermen:  Is city spending youth crime prevention money properly?

CITY HALL – A committee of the Board of Aldermen plans to take a closer look at how the city is spending a fund designed to steer young people away from crime.

The board’s Public Safety Committee will examine which groups have gotten money from the Proposition S Youth Crime Prevention Fund. Approved by voters in 2008, Prop S allocates nearly $1 million a year for anti-violence youth programs.

It’s part of a wide-ranging group of issues the committee wants to put under the microscope as it begins a two-year period with new members and a new leader.

The committee wants to meet with experts and ordinary people to come up with solutions to such problems as violent crime, homelessness, whether to close the Medium Security Institution (the City Workhouse), shootings and other issues.

“At the end of two years, I want to go out and say, ‘We made a difference,’” said 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, the committee’s new chair. The current membership will serve for two years.

Vaccaro spoke at a meeting of the committee on May 15 to discuss those issues. He said the committee should hold weekly meetings on the project and might hold meetings in neighborhoods.

On one issue, the Proposition S Youth Crime Prevention Fund, some committee members wonder whether the same groups are getting the money and whether other groups should get funding.

This year, the city gave $930,185 to 38 qualified nonprofit organizations for at-risk youth ages 11-24. Eight of those programs were funded for the first time.

“We continue to fund the exact same organizations that have already received city dollars,” 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad said.

The groups that received the grants included 100 Black Men, Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club and Lift for Life.

Muhammad said the committee should look at the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which has a key role in allocating the money.  

“People apply there, and they send us over a list. That’s not the way it has to happen,” Vacarro said.

Once a year, nonprofit groups can apply with a proposal for helping at-risk young people. The United Way reviews the proposals and passes on its recommendations to the Public Safety Committee. The committee makes a decision and passes it on to the Board of Aldermen for final approval.

“Over the years, it’s helped over 20,000 kids,” said Mary Ries, legislative director to Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

While it’s not a cure for all problems, it definitely helps, Ries said. “Each one of them has a goal of helping youth.”

Twenty-Second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd will form a subcommittee to come back with recommendations on how the Proposition S money should be allocated.

“We’re going to bring in all kinds (of people), up to and including Larry Rice, if he’s willing to talk to us,” Varraro said. Rice leads the New Life Evangelistic Center, which formerly operated a center for the homeless downtown.

Ward 12 Alderman Larry Arnowitz, who also is chair of the board’s Health and Human Services Committee, will work on the issue of homelessness. The Health Committee normally works on that issue.