Amid spate of teen gun violence, agencies work together to keep kids off the streets this summer

TACOMA, Wash. — There’s a concerted community effort underway in Tacoma to keep teenagers safe this summer. Several agencies will work together to get them off the streets and away from gun violence.

The different partners are Greentrike, Boys, and Girls Club South Puget Sound, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, Metro Parks Tacoma, and Tacoma Public Schools. All players said they feel the urgency to give teens a safe place to spend the summer, in hopes that all who leave school this spring will live to make it back to the classroom in the fall.

“It rocks us because they’re our babies,” said Tacoma Schools Superintendent Josh Garcia.

The numbers are sobering. There have been sixteen murders in Tacoma so far in 2023, and almost half the victims are minors.

“In Tacoma Public Schools we’ve had ten students that have actually been impacted by gun violence and we’ve lost 6 lives. It’s been a tough year,” said Superintendent Garcia.

Teen gun violence is front of mind for Council Member Kiara Daniels. She is one of the sponsors behind Resolution 41197, which sets aside $300,000 to expand summer programs to bridge the gap between when school ends and when students return for the fall semester.

“They just show up with their Tacoma public schools ID and it’s a drop in style, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. It’s made to be a low barrier, it’s made to feel easy to do,” said Council Member Daniels.

$200,000 thousand of that money will go towards twelve Whole Child Safe Zone sites.

“Currently there is a need for a safe space both physical and emotional for middle and high schoolers,” said Greenstrike OSTI Operations Manager, Bernie Rhoades.

Council Member Daniels added, “And we got another $100,000 that we really have to sit and think about what it looks like to be culturally responsive and what does it look like to be relevant to our young people.”

The people behind this plan believe if they keep these kids busy, and keep them off the streets, they have a better chance of keeping them alive. They also say they plan to ask teens what will make them want to spend their summer nights at a community center.

“Really we need the young people on board to want to stay alive and want to keep their friends and family members alive too,” said Daniels.

Rhoades said, “The hope is that if they know their voice is being heard and recognized and respected they will come. Kids vote with their feet and we hope by giving them this space for their voice to be heard they will come.”

All partners agree, there’s not one answer to stopping teen gun violence. They all also agree that they can’t sit by and watch another young life get cut short because someone pulled the trigger.

“In Tacoma, we’re trying to come together to partner, to bring unity together to do something that’s better because the current status quo isn’t good enough for our youth,” said Superintendent Garcia.

Council Member Daniels added, “Once we kind of set the bar and set the culture I think it’s going to be really easy to get on board.”

The twelve safe space locations will be open on weekdays, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. All locations will have dinner as well.

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