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L.A. OKs Youth-at-Risk Unit to Counter Gangs

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to improve the coordination among a multitude of private organizations that work to encourage young people to keep out of street gangs, the Los Angeles City Council approved the creation on Wednesday of a youth-at-risk advocacy unit.

Proposed by Eastside Councilman Richard Alatorre, the new unit will be funded this year by $2.1 million that was set aside by the council last spring to pay for new gang-prevention programs. Staffing the unit, which is expected to be completed in several months, will cost between $200,000 and $500,000. What remains will be spent as a one-time grant for new programs.

By 1991, the unit will be responsible for reviewing proposed city expenditures that potentially affect at-risk children.

In introducing the proposal last year, Alatorre said the city cannot begin to curb its gang problem as long as the many local programs that serve inner-city youths work in isolation from each other, often duplicating each other’s efforts.

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“Most government agencies work chiefly alone, as do churches, synagogues and community-based organizations,” he said. “There are fights over money and turf, fights which sometimes mirror the animosity of gang altercations . . . Nobody knows what one another is doing.”

The new unit will be a part of the city’s Community Development Department. It will be run by a chief youth-at-risk advocate and four assistants, whose responsibilities will be divided along the Los Angeles Police Department’s four geographical regions.

The unit will develop standards for granting funds to private programs and will attempt to continue city support of youth programs only when there is proof that they are efficient. It will also try to coordinate municipal programs with services provided by private organizations and other public agencies, ranging from school districts to the county Probation Department.

Members of the unit will work with a broad definition of “at-risk” youth, including not only gang members but school dropouts, truants and children from welfare families and those who are pregnant, have learning disabilities, speak English as a second language, are victims of crime or sexual abuse or have witnessed violent crime.

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Phone Hot Line

In addition, the unit will establish a telephone hot line for parents to provide information about available social services for children who have problems.

Councilman Robert Farrell, who represents South Los Angeles, said the council vote was a rare instance in which the city’s general fund budget has been allocated to fund a new ongoing social program.

“I think it is an extraordinary act,” he said, adding that it lets disadvantaged families know that “we really care because we dug into our own pocket to pay for this,” as opposed to relying on a federal grant.

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