Will "The Hook Up Neighborhood Service Fairs" Help Suppress the Rising Tide of Deadly SF Violence?

The Alice Griffith housing complex -- “Double Rock” -- is like a gated community, except nobody wants in. Like a prison, it’s made up of about a dozen blocks that form a world all its own.

It’s got a candy store for groceries, a guy who fixes cars, and a hair salon. For some people, that’s enough. Many of the maybe 800 residents on public assistance never leave Double Rock at all -- and for some, that’s safer. The streets outside are rival gang territory and a trip to the T-line just 5 blocks away can be lethal, especially for young men.

So instead many of the residents of Double Rock, cut off from the world, sit tight and spin their wheels -- often literally. Cars pull up and down the streets in between dilapidated tenements, going nowhere. Kids race by on razor scooters. The place can be a flurry of activity. It’s something to do.

Thursday afternoon, the city started a program to try and make them a better offer.

The program, called “The Hook Up Neighborhood Service Fairs” (is it possible to have something happen in San Francisco that’s not an obvious double entendre? Please?) is a “mini service fair” intended to reach at-risk youth and adults with basic services and opportunities that can connect them to the outside world. It’s a reaction to the rising tide of deadly summer violence -- an alternative to just cracking down with more police.

Run by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the service fairs have a fairly simple premise: “People need access,” said Tinish Hollins, the Community Liason for the MCOJ who organized Thursday’s event. “A lot of times we may debate about whether their reasons for not getting it make sense to us … how hard is it to go down to city hall to get an ID? … but instead of telling them they’re wrong, we’re here coming to them, to help provide access.”

Community organizers like Hollins decided what services at-risk residents most need, and the MCOJ tried to provide. It was basic stuff: forms to get a Social Security Card, a drivers license or state ID, access to health care … and, of course, work. Especially for kids.

Applications for free summer camps, classes, and events were on-hand, along with applications for pricier pastimes that offered scholarships (anybody from the projects want to go to Shakespeare Camp?). Job materials for 16-19 year olds were there from Juma Ventures, which sells food at Giants, A’s, and 49ers games.

So were materials from the Mayor’s Youth, Employment and Education Program, but ironically only spots for kids on parole were available … the application deadline for kids who haven’t been convicted of a crime was June 1, a little too soon for the event. I actually heard a mother asking about her child get turned away because he wasn’t involved in the criminal justice system.

There were also applications for the United Way’s “Jobs for Youth” program -- but that application requires a résumé, which was daunting.

Problems like these come up because of the program’s ad hoc nature. At a recent Public Safety Committee meeting, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell praised the premise behind these programs (there will be three more this summer, at other housing complexes) but pointed out that parents who actually care what their children are doing over the summer have made plans long before July. Wouldn’t it be possible, she asked, to plan this out better, advertise in advance, and get kids enrolled before the next summer of violence starts?

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice said yes.

(Okay, I’ve got to stop here and ask: just HOW MANY programs out of City Hall need to have the word “Mayor” in them? There’s the Mayor’s Office of Community Development, the Mayor’s Office on Disability, the Mayor’s Disability Council, the Mayor’s Office on Homelessness. . . okay already! Mr. Mayor, we know you exist!)

Next year, said MCOJ Deputy Director Lenore Anderson, the service fairs and other, related events (like “Summer Jams”; “Violence Free Zones” and “DCYF Block Parties”) will be presented well in advance as part of a better coordinated effort to keep summer violence from happening and build a bridge into the insulated world of public housing projects.

In the meantime, an estimated 60 people signed up for services or helped their kids get a job. Who knows – it might help them make it out of their gated community.

--Benjamin Wachs

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