A social worker aiming to break Bermuda’s gang cycle is calling on employers to take a chance on young men with troubled histories.
Kimberley Jackson, managing director of Team Street Safe, said giving “proven risk individuals” secure training and employment would be one of the most effective solutions to the island’s gang violence problem.
The charity, which infiltrates Bermuda’s gangs and provides counselling for family members, successfully found employment for 12 individuals involved in antisocial behaviour and gang activity in the last year and a half.
Ms Jackson believes, that given the chance, many more would follow suit. However, they are facing roadblocks when it comes to finding willing employers. But she feels that employment for those who might otherwise turn to the streets for their income is key to turning the problem of gang violence in Bermuda on its head.
Employers are going to have to take a chance on some of these predominantly young men in order for it to come to fruition, she said, but they will have the full backing of Team Street Safe.
“We are going to eradicate guns and violence by giving them jobs,” Ms Jackson told The Royal Gazette. “All around the world we see the example of gun violence and gang violence reducing when these young men are given opportunities and jobs.
“Working with these young men, there are two things I see that they want — they want education. They realise that when they dropped out of education it impacted them from moving forward.
“Secondly, they want jobs so even going down the education route at this point it becomes very difficult for them because they have to live, they have to house themselves, some of them have children and so there is a real need to make money. That sacrifice of going to school is not a high priority because they need to live.
“I have heard the community say these guys don’t want to work for $500 a week because they can make more money on the street — I am going to tell you this and I want this message to be clear — these young men will work for $500 a week.
“They want that because they want the legal way of earning money and the lifestyle versus having to look over their shoulder.”
Team Street Safe, which Minister of National Security Jeff Baron described as a “phenomenal” charity that is helping to rebuild communities affected by gang and gun violence, has about 30 clients who are proven risk individuals, and was allocated $200,000 in the 2017 budget.
As the charity reassigns its funds, it is looking to hire a second support worker whose job will be to ensure these individuals remain on track at work once employed.
Ms Jackson said that there was a reluctance by employers to take on anyone with a known history of violence but with the new budget at hand she hopes to implement a programme where certain employers in the West, East and central parts of the island become dedicated to the cause.
“There are some good employers already — like BGA and Jim Butterfield [Butterfield and Vallis] — who will take people on. Let me just say, we need more of them. I would love to introduce a ‘21/2-2’ programme where 21 companies take on two guys for two years.
“There is a similar programme in San Francisco. We would have seven companies in the East, seven in the West, and seven centrally who give the young men two years of an opportunity to build a work ethic that will put them on a path of sustainability for the rest of their lives. Also, doing it locally in their neighbourhood reduces the challenges if they are being sought after from other groups. Two years of building a positive work ethic and you are on the path to success. Employers will have to take a chance on them — I get that they have a business to run but they have our support. Our community outreach workers will work with the young men to keep them consistent while building their work skills.
“I have seen guys come out of prison looking for jobs and we have been consistent in getting them interviews and getting them over to the Department of Workforce Development and they are consistent in looking but it gets to a point where they don’t get a break and yes, they fall back.”
However, when the men do get a break it has worked out well, Ms Jackson added.
“We had an individual who was on the revolving door path in prison who is out now and doing very well.
“We have had some feedback from the courts and probation services that when they found work it is the first time they have seen them go so long without offending or reoffending. Clearly, for me, it is the relationships that they have built with their worker and then see their esteem grow.”
More can be done in the community as a whole, Ms Jackson believes, to bring this into fruition.
“We need more job shadowing as well as more formalised work readiness training.
“There are some other initiatives focusing on education and training — the Adult Education School — but it needs funding.
“I can see where Job Corps could work for this target group because they could get a stipend for being in school working towards certification with part of their time being in a vocational work placement while building their skill set — we need that here.
“They dropped out of school, they don’t have a work ethic so you are starting from scratch.
“Team Street Safe is piecing it together but if we had the other support then we could reach out to them and build the relationships, be a case worker for them and send them to those programmes.
“We are considering whether we can then offer work skills development ourselves. We could look at opening up an agency that we can send these guys through a process to give them an assessment for entry into work but it requires resources and it requires some funding to get there. We have had men going into construction, warehouses, hospitality, painting and even entrepreneurship. We also did a couple of workshops with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation so these guys could learn vendoring.
“Every company should be open to establishing and giving an opportunity to these young men. Bermuda is going to have a unique way of getting out of gangs.”