By Renee Roden
Committee Co-chair Catherine DeLazzero kicked off Thursday’s virtual Community Board 7 Health and Human Services meeting with a call to action that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
“All children and youth are valuable members of our community who deserve our unconditional protection, support, and advocacy that is not contingent on changing circumstances,” DeLazzo said. “They have the right to have all their needs met, all the time.”
That’s a tall order for a city facing a $7.4 billion-dollar shortfall as it hammers out its 2021 budget. “This is all playing out in City Hall right now in the budget fight, which is in its final days,” said City Councilmember Mark Levine, who represents the northern part of the neighborhood, and attended the meeting. “It’s a very challenging time for all of us and the city, but doubly so for young people who are facing social isolation, educational disruption, and potential cuts to vital programs that affect them.”
One program that could lose funding provides summer employment and internship opportunities to city youth. Although the job market and economy are uncertain, Levine identified many jobs that teenagers could do under the circumstances: check in on senior citizens at home; arrange for grocery pickups; be social-distancing “ambassadors,” pass out masks and information; engage in contact tracing by joining the National HealthCorps.
Inadequate funding or fear of further cuts concerned those from nonprofits at the meeting, including Sara Zaidi and Gena Jefferson, of the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. “In the last three months in New York City, there has been a higher correlation of sexual violence, because children are living with their perpetrators,” Zaidi explained. “Although 70% of sexual assaults involve children, child sexual assault is often left out of the conversation and most funds go toward adult sexual-assault programs.”
Runaway and homeless youth (RHY) were also represented at the meeting. Carolyn Strudwick, of the Safe Horizons Streetwork Program, pointed out how RHY programs and services are unable to access funding for adult services, but are in need of support just as much as adults. “It would be really helpful for RHY programs to have access to vouchers for housing and become a NYCHA priority,” she said.
Schools were also discussed. One of the speakers was Carland Washington, principal of West Prep Academy, a public school on West 105th Street, which he has led, over the past nine years, from being the lowest-ranked middle school in the city to become one of the “most sought-after.” Even so, Washington said, due to budgeting issues, “students are still falling through the cracks.”
In conclusion, committee member Sheldon Fine proposed a resolution calling upon the mayor and City Council to support and enhance funding for crucial programs for children and young men and women in the upcoming city budget. Additionally, he proposed that CB7 create opportunities for youth to have a voice in the community, through employment and internships this summer.
The committee voted to pass the resolution.