On the Clark University gang/youth violence conference

By Rosalie Tirella

Last night’s conference at Clark University on gang violence and at-risk youth is something we hold to make ourselves feel better. No one wants to get to the real crux of the youth violence/gang problem: sky-high rents in Worcester. The good factory jobs are gone. Many adults in the innercity have McJobs. No one can pay Worcester’s exorbitant inner-city apartment rents. Our elected officials do not work to solve the real problem. So everyone throws out other little fixes, like Bandaids over blown off limbs: youth mentors, part-time jobs for kids.

Jobs for kids – we love the idea! Mentors can sometimes turn lives around! But really, how are you going to change a kid’s world, if his mom and he and his siblings are living in an apartment in Piedmont and struggling to pay $850 a month rent? How can a family keep paying the bills and have a little money left over for a few fun extras, if they are behind the eight-ball every month?

And the idiots who diss Worcester’s CDCs are just that – idiots. They whine about the city’s “no-lo housing,” about the govt subsidizing the CDC apts when if fact the govt is also subsididzing their crumby inner-city apartments every time they take a tenant who receives “subsidized rent.” Could these greedy landlords charge what their apartments are really worth a month – around $600/$650? Certainly. But they will take the $1,200/grand the federal govt gives them per crumby apartment and perpetuate the system, a system in which Worcester apartments rent for too much money. Inflated rents! Then all the other landlords jump aboard, charging $800 or so for their digs. And guess what?

The youths politicians like Mike Moore, District Att. Joe Early Jr. and pals say they are trying to help are not helped one iota. The youths are too busy moving to new digs with their parent/s who are on the run from landlords (for not paying rent). Even with subsidized rents, the families still struggle, and we are creating a very dependent group of people who are too afraid to get off welfare because everything is so expensive and a McJob is not going to pay the bills! So that means the kids are probably changing schools, as their family moves to another Worcester slum apartment, and parents feel to stressed to vote or even register to vote in their new neighborhoods.

When I was kid, we were poor and so were all the families around us. My dad was MIA – like many dads were back then and still are. BUT my life was stable and so were many of my friends’ lives BECAUSE the rents were low enough for families to pay the bills and have a bit of cash left over. I attended Lamartine Street School, K – grade six. Guess what? I graduated from Lamartine with MOST of the kids I started out with – my kindergarten classmates.

Because of the inflated rents in Worcester – especialy in our poor neighborhoods- poor families cannot stabalize. So food is a problem, electricity bills are problems, clothing, taxi fare, school atttendance, teeth – all the other stuff – is a problem. Inner-city fmailies get stressed out. Dads bail. Violence, anger set in. The kids are hurt, angry, mad, ashamed. Of course, youths in the middle of a family crisis will act out. I am surprised there are not more Worcester kids breaking the law and carrying guns. They are having such a crappy time in our city!

Like I said, the kids go to new schools every year. Of course, their grades will suffer. The families move to a new neighborhood. Of course, mom or dad or any guardian will not be registered to vote in the new neighborhood. And will they take the time to re-register, if they are registered at all? This is why inner-city District 4 – Main South, Piedmont, downtown – has the fewest registered voters.

Families are on the move all the time. The result: intractable poverty, violence, stress, the creation of an underclass in Worcester.

Worcester’s underclass does not need basketballl with cops on a Friday night – though that may help. Worcester’s youth’s need Worcester City officials to call HUD- the federal office of Housing and Urban Development. Our city leaders must tell HUD that Worcester apartments are not worth the amonunt of money the feds are givng us – basically Boston vouchers. We are not Boston. Our jobs don’t pay as well as Boston’s; our cost of living is not as high. HUD’s rental vouchers must reflect that. If that happens, greedy Worcester landlords will get what they deserve for their third-rate subsidized apartments AND the other non-subsidized rents will come down for the rest of the apartments in Worcester’s poor neighborhoods. The rents have been inflated in this city for too long. The govt must stop feeding our bad habit.

By making rents affordable for poor families in Main South, Piedmont, Harrison/Providence streets, we will be stabalizing poor, inner-city families and neighborhoods.

Then – and only then – will we see a drop in youth crime/gang activity. We will also see stability in our inner-city (District 4) schools and we will have more registered voters in District 4/poor neighborhoods.

We will then be empowering kids in a real way. We will be strengthening poor families in a real way. Education, voting, empowerment. It all will come with rents that are affordable for the poor. McJobs are here to stay.

Just like it used to be in my Green Island neighborhood years ago and most every other poor neighborhood in Worcester. We had no underclass then. We just had immigrants and their kids and poor people living in stable neighborhoods, living together, forming a true community.

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