VRI switches gears; council to focus on keeping teens out of trouble
The city council wants to shift its focus on keeping teens out of trouble, rather than rehabilitating adults with a life of crime.
Chattanooga's Violent Reduction Initiative is switching gears. The city council wants to shift its focus on keeping teens out of trouble, rather than rehabilitating adults with a life of crime.
Last month, the council refused to fund the mayor's VRI social services provider.
The VRI started with Mayor Berke's first term. Since then, the city has hosted 11 call-in meetings. In these meetings, city leaders spend time with known gang members in an effort to change their ways. Those meetings are on hold until city leaders can agree on how to pay for them.
Satedra Smith has been following Chattanooga’s Violence Reduction Initiative since her son Jordan Clark was killed in 2015. She spoke to known gang members at the last call-in. “My heart was full. My heart was full of grief.”
She planned to speak at the next call-in, scheduled for this month. But was told it was cancelled due to a lack of funding. Smith said it is disheartening. “I think it is a big mistake. Some of these young men, they do, they at some point get it. At some point get it, it may take them awhile.”
Fathers to the Fatherless partners with the city and organizes the call-in meetings. Since November, the group has been working without a contract. The director declined to comment on the council's decision not to move forward with future funding of that contract.
City Councilman Anthony Byrd said he is working to recruit other organizations to continue a similar program. “We don't live in a perfect city; we don't live in a perfect world. The structure could have been tweaked a little bit. But I am in favor of everybody coming together on a positive note.”
Smith thinks it's a good idea to focus on our community's youth, but said the adults will still need guidance. “They still may be in something they don't want to be in. They still may want a way out of the situation.”
Channel 3 reached out to Mayor Berke's office about the potential change in direction for a program he has touted. A spokesperson said his office hopes the call-in will be rescheduled in March.
Satedra Smith said if it happens, she wants to be there.
Councilman Anthony Byrd plans to ask the council to approve a one million dollar investment to add to VRI efforts and secure social services needed for adults and youth.