Guest Editorial: Talia Rivera

February 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Boston Street Workers Threatened
By Talia Rivera
Executive Director
Villages Without Walls

The last six months were difficult for those who work the dangerous streets of Boston.

In August, a street worker was shot in the head while talking to a teenager with whom he worked. And over the last few months, three street workers were arrested on drug and assault charges.

These incidents began a long overdue dialogue regarding policy around street workers, including their qualifications, supervision, support, and pay.

Street workers are hired to engage gang-involved youth and mediate gang conflicts. From 2000 to 2001 homicides in Boston rose from 38 to 68, an increase of over 100% since 1999. The resurgence of youth violence brought together the work of clergy, police, probation officers, and street workers to implement The Truce Initiative in 2006. The street workers reached out to gang members and visited juvenile detention centers and county jails to solicit support from gang leaders so that truces could be brokered between gangs. The success of the initiative’s outreach was deeply dependent on the relationships street workers had with gang-involved youth. The street workers delivered, and success arrived.

But the work doesn’t end with bringing gang-involved youth to the table. The needs of these youth are so great that street workers are forced to become more than gang mediators. They serve as advocates for gang-involved youth around employment, housing, school, and the courts. Street workers are on-call therapists without training, responding to crime scenes, and staying to counsel grieving youth long after clergy, police officers, ambulances, and the media cameras are gone.

Sadly, the work of street workers goes unseen, unnoticed, and unappreciated. I know – I’ve been a street worker for the City of Boston.

I won’t deny there are problems with a few street workers. Some are called thugs, lazy, and incompetent but these few do not undo the good work that the majority have done.

Street workers risk their lives each day. Street workers literally and figuratively stand in the precarious middle of the city’s explosive gang violence. Imagine walking in their shoes . . . up Blue Hill Avenue in the lonely dark, pushing against Boston’s wind without a blue and white cruiser, without a bulletproof vest, without a Glock glued to the hip. All that a street worker has is his or her word; and a laughable salary.

Street workers are an integral part of peace and safety in the city.

I must ask, when will street workers become respected colleagues, compensated for their endless and exhausting commitment to you, your neighbors, and your family?

Talia Rivera is the Executive Director of Villages Without Walls.   The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.

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