Streetworkers Mediate Gang Violence and Connect Teens to Health Services in Lowell, Mass.

Increasing access to primary health care and mental health services by Asian youth

Dates of Project: July 2003 through June 2009

Outreach workers—which the United Teen Equality Center calls streetworkers—worked to reduce gang violence and increase the use of primary care and mental health care services among Southeast Asian—primarily Cambodian—youth in Lowell, Mass.

The streetworkers were paid, trained adults from the community who could help teenagers access community resources and advocate for and support them, including through home visits and phone calls.

Key Project Results

  • Streetworkers helped mediate more than 300 conflicts between gangs. More than 90 percent of the mediations resolved the conflict during the project period.

  • About 40 teenagers attended at least one of six peace summits, in which members of rival gangs signed a peace treaty. No major incidents of violence between members of the gangs who participated in these summits followed during the project period.

  • Some 118 teenagers received mental health counseling and 66 received primary care services.

  • Some 78 teenagers enrolled in health insurance.

“The Streetworker Center has become part of the larger community in Lowell and is now seen as part of the solution to gang violence”—Juan Carlos Rivera, project director during the RWJF grant

An evaluation team from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the United Teen Equality Center’s Streetworker Program to produce a written record describing the program. The evaluation team’s research and publications were undertaken to benefit the Lowell program, other streetworker programs across the United States, and organizations interested in forming a streetworker program.

Evaluation Findings

  • United Teen Equality Center staff views any crisis (homelessness, pregnancy, school suspension, escalating gang violence) as an opportunity for youth to develop and grow.

  • The Streetworker Program at United Teen Equality Center focuses on peacemaking (in addition to violence prevention) and working in partnerships (with city agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the local business community) as top priorities.

  • The number one goal of Streetworker Program clients was obtaining a job, which was followed by education and housing.

  • Youth who worked with streetworkers viewed them favorably and acknowledged that the program had a positive impact on their life.

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