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Street vigils to return with new PIRC provider

Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess has introduced a resolution authorizing the mayor and the director of public safety to contract with Youth Opportunities Development to renew the street-level engagement and outreach component of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, left vacant by the closing of One Vision One Life this summer.

The resolution would allocate $75,000 to YOD and another $125,000 to Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania for programming outreach and coordination. Council held the resolution in committee with several other public safety proposals, but Rev. Burgess’ Chief of Staff Shawn Carter said he expected it to be released and approved during the Oct. 10 post-agenda meeting.

“We’re hoping that’s the case because it’s a critical component of our efforts, said PIRC Coordinator Jay Gilmer. “We’re hindered without the aggressive street outreach, the violence intervention, mentoring and program presentations.”

A nonprofit comprised mainly of former One Vision One Life personnel, YOD will be seeking additional funding from public and foundation sources, said Director of Operations Taili Thompson.

“We’ve been doing a lot already on a volunteer basis. The kids see us at community meetings and on the street,” he said. “We are currently running an after school program at the Frazier Field House in South Oakland where we do mentoring and tutoring, and in conjunction with Allegheny County, we are able to offer dinner too.”

In addition to Thompson, YOD’s other two officers are Brandon Ziats, who serves as programming director, and Professor Joseph Johnson from Rowan University in New Jersey, who serves as director of research and development and who developed the model YOD will be using in its violence reduction campaign.

Both Johnson and Ziats assisted in the data collection for the 2010 RAND study of One Vision One Life, which said its effectiveness could not really be assessed.

Part of that was a lack of ongoing data collection, which Ziats said YOD plans to do a lot more of.

“We’re going to be collecting data all through this,” he said. “That will allow us to have more information and statistics to show how we’re affecting the community. It also gives us something to show potential funders.”

Thompson said the data is crucial.

“We have a model, and we’re going to try to find what will actually reduce violence, based on that work,” he said.

YOD will also employ three additional street engagement workers and their efforts will be citywide. Thompson said YOD would also bring back the community vigils for victims of street violence.

“We felt the vigils were a benefit to the community and we’re looking to do that again,” he said. “It gives the community a chance to stand up and speak against the violence.”

On a related note, Allegheny County Council has voted to pursue $236,375 in state grants to combat gang-related violence. The funds, from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency would be split between the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court and the Sheriff’s Office, each of which would have to provide $6,240 in matching funds.

With the county’s homicide rate having surpassed last year’s total by Sept. 5, Councilman Bill Robinson said the application is timely.

“Members of council will get pressure from their constituents to do something if gun violence spreads to more suburban communities,” he said.

The courts are expected to use their portion for enhanced probation work targeting gang members. The sheriff’s office could use its portion to pay overtime to officers doing additional gang-related work, or to purchase additional equipment.

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