The war over peace

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 5, 2010

"When [StreetSafe] was developed, there was no consultation with any of the city councilors," says Councilor Charles Yancey of Mattapan, a vocal CYF advocate who has proposed increasing the number of city-funded streetworkers to 300 in order to meet demands dictated by school-dropout rates. On behalf of wounded soldier Harvey, along with other councilors, Yancey is also pushing for legislation that would give city streetworkers the same disability benefits that injured public-safety employees can collect. "I've floated these ideas for years," adds the councilor. "But the lack of communication here is unfortunate. We all have the same objective — there should be no sense of competition. But right now, there's so much talent that's being squandered because we're not doing the necessary outreach."

In order to prevent miscommunication — or at least the perception of such — CYF Director Chris Byner was recruited early on to join the StreetSafe leadership team. As was Rodney Dailey, who most recently served in the Suffolk County Sherriff's Department as a business-community liaison. In theory, their past involvement with city bureaucracy, plus established ties to Lewis, could smooth historically rough relations between Menino and TBF President Paul Grogan. Still, more than one source claims that Byner — whose department did not respond to several inquiries by the Phoenix — has no foundation pull whatsoever, and does not coordinate his troops with theirs beyond monthly meetings to share names and addresses of new parolees.

The TBF roster, the Phoenix is told, is a mere ploy to prevent StreetSafe from looking like the anti-CYF. Some streetworkers questioned by the Phoenix say they rarely consult outside forces; others seem truly interested in connecting; all but one who we spoke with agree that increased horizontal correspondence could benefit the cause. (The holdout insists that group meetings only subtract from time that could be spent in the field.)

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MIRACLE WORKERS: From left, Pastor Bruce Wall, Reverend William Dickerson, and Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan each have different ideas on how to bring peace back to the streets of Boston.

Shooting themselves in the foot?
Though the principals and principles that once earned Boston national acclaim are again in place, there is some skepticism regarding StreetSafe and its promise. One telltale sign of such is that donations are reported down. As of July 2009, the initial $26 million proposal had been scaled back 20 percent; likewise, TBF currently has just 16 streetworkers (nine less than planned). Some observers also distrust the lily-white TBF — an organization that has not previously tried to manufacture equality — assuming such authoritarian command over urban vice. That said, former CYF head Lithcutt has tremendous faith in Byner and Lewis. As does Teny Gross, who founded the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence after a stint with the TenPoint Coalition in the 1990s, when he was largely credited with uniting church and city-based streetworkers. Similar to other social engineers who emerged from Operation Ceasefire, Gross applauds TBF undertakings, but offers an understandable cautionary reservation.

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