SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Community residents called for more public spending for youth-oriented services and activities and additional funds to remove blight and other public nuisances from local neighborhoods.
Those were the responses by those attending a town hall meeting called by the leaders of the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of South Los Angeles that was conducted June 30 at the Community Coalition’s offices on Vermont Avenue.
Hundreds of parents, students and other constituents provided feedback to coalition officials on how its seven-member organizations can work together to decrease the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol among youth and remove barriers to residents’ health and well-being.
The substance abuse coalition serves County Service Planning Area 6, encompassing South Los Angeles, Watts, Crenshaw, Compton, Lynwood, Paramount, Athens, Florence and Hyde Park.
In polling conducted at the town hall, respondents identified liquor stores, gangs, inadequate after-school youth activities and support services as barriers contributing to crime in their neighborhoods.
Tyra Goodman, administration director of the Community Coalition, said, “We talk to the community, conduct surveys and assessment, ask people what would help prevent access and availability of alcohol to youth and what would change social norms around illicit drug use, particularly marijuana.
“We ask them what would be beneficial, especially regarding the Substance Abuse and Control grant we’re working on with the county”” Goodman added.
Professor Cheryl Grills conducted one such outreach effort for the substance abuse coalition in April and May of this year and found overlap with the town hall’s poll results.
The Loyola Marymount University professor surveyed almost 1,000 high school students and parents, identifying risk factors and the assets and resources supportive of South L.A. youth and residents.
“Risk factors or barriers “interfere with health and well-being while protective factors improve them and support resilience — they almost inoculate us,” Grills said.
Grills’ survey found that “gangs and access to and availability of alcohol and marijuana at liquor stores and marijuana shops, respectively, are top barriers, followed by litter and graffiti, and dirty or unsafe parks.”
Half of the adults and one-third of the youth respondents said that the presence of marijuana shops in the community send a message that “it’s ok to use [marijuana] since it’s [almost] legal.”
“Access and availability of alcohol and marijuana … increase the likelihood that youth and residents will get involved in criminal or gang activities or substance use and abuse problems,” Grills added.
The assessment also asked youth what they want after school and what they want from their schools.
During after-school hours, “South L.A. youth said they want recreational and enriching opportunities; academic and career work readiness and essential life skills programs that can promote positive health and personal development.”
“Notably, the youth said they want non-traditional school hours, in addition to school wellness services; programs for family and community violence; intern apprenticeships; work experience; and adult mentoring — not a generic or ‘one-size fits all’ high school educational experience,” Grills said.
The professor said the small sample limits the “generalizability of findings for the SPA 6 area,” but “if you are going to talk about prevention or any kind of service, you must have holistic solutions and be able to do multiple things that get at the meat of what makes healthy people and communities.”
“Issues are linked,” she said. “Homelessness, mental health and substance abuse, for example, are factors in community health and well-being. You can’t focus on just one area.”
Juana Rosa Cavero said the Advancement Project’s “justice equity neighborhood index measures the need for justice equity in communities that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.”
“We talk about investment in communities of high need,” Cavero said. “We need to invest the dollars the most in those communities. They have high levels of unemployment, violent crime, poverty and residents lacking a high school diploma.
“If we are able to work on this and change those current conditions, we could change the outcomes of our communities. Eventually, we can completely and radically transform the criminal justice system so it works best for our communities,” she said.
Each of the providers in the substance abuse coalition contracts separately with Los Angeles County to do comprehensive prevention services, Goodman said.
“They have their own work programs,” she added.
“The county recently renewed [Community Coalition’s] $2.1 million grant for environmental services and [comprehensive prevention services] funds. As the leader of the [substance abuse] coalition, we receive both grants,” Goodman said.
“We use the [environmental services] funds to work with residents in the area of nuisance abatement. In our comprehensive prevention service programs, we have a youth group that meets at Fremont High School. We conduct preventative activities and discuss alcohol and marijuana abuse prevention. We make referrals to our partner agencies,” she added.
“In regard to Proposition 47, we are trying to inform and substantiate the resources and services needed to help with issues of recidivism and rehabilitation to make certain that people are not returned to the streets with nothing to do or with no resources or services.”
“These are services the community thinks would be helpful: making sure that you serve those people who return home. We want to make this information available to our council districts and make presentations to neighborhood councils,” Goodman added.
The six other coalition members are the Avalon Community Center, MJB Transitional Recovery, People Coordinated Services, South Central Prevention Coalition, Volunteers of America and Watts Healthcare Corporation.