PITTSFIELD — The city has secured a grant to fund a long-term program to help at-risk young males steer clear of gun violence and gangs.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi announced on Monday the 10-year, nearly $5 million awarded through the state's Safe and Successful Youth Initiative. The program starts with a $350,000 check covering now through the first six months of 2016, and then $500,000 for each of the remaining nine years of the grant. The grant is believed to be the largest the city has received for a youth program.
"To see a decrease in youth violence, you want to measure success over a long period of time," said Scott Murray, interim program director for Pittsfield Community Connection. Pittsfield Community Connection will oversee the grant's deployment.
The program brings a public health and public safety approach in its focus on males between the ages of 17 and 24 at the highest risk of committing violence. The Pittsfield Police Department will identify the youths who should be eligible for the program.
The intervention strategy involves young people in behavioral health counseling, education, employment and training, and interaction with outreach workers.
"This grant ... is a game-changer for Pittsfield," Bianchi said in a statement. "We will finally have the resources needed to target a population of young people who are susceptible to violence and gang involvement."
Murray called the $5 million a "critical addition" to helping the city's youth avoid violent conflict, thus making community safer.
"Violence was escalating when we applied for this last summer," said PCC Steering Committee Chairman Adam Hinds in prepared remarks. "Working through the police means ensuring targeted behavioral counseling, and expanding hope gained from jobs, education and community support."
The program has been implemented in Massachusetts cities like Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester. A study by the American Institute for Research showed that youths who weren't involved in the program in these cities were 42 percent more likely to be incarcerated than those who were in it.
An inaugural meeting of SSYI partners was held Thursday and included city police and school departments, BerkshireWorks, and The Brien Center, Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, local court probation officers,the Fenn Street Development Corporation, Goodwill, and others.
Bianchi expects the partnership to get results.
"I have always believed that Pittsfield is unique in that we are a city with small town sensibilities and values," he said. "Residents help each other."