Streetworkers, Youth Violence Prevention, and Peacemaking in Lowell, Massachusetts

Street outreach workers (SWs) at the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell, Massachusetts conduct peacemaking efforts with local street gangs. SWs seek out areas where violence occurs, intervene in fights and tamp down volatile situations.

Young people 15 to 24 years old are 20 percent of the Lowell population; the rate of violent crime in Lowell is twice that for the rest of the Commonwealth. The UTEC development model emphasizes a comprehensive approach to engaging young people.

This paper documents the work of SWs at UTEC. The authors describe UTEC’s training and management approach and explore how SWs affect youth violence in Lowell. From 2007 to 2009, the authors conducted interviews with UTEC staff members and the six SWs employed at UTEC. The SW interviews explored training, activities and the skills and knowledge crucial to SW work. The authors also interviewed representatives from partner organizations—school administrators, police department and court personnel, and representatives of a nonprofit agency—who work with the SWs.

Key Findings:

  • UTEC views any crisis as an opportunity for development and growth.
  • Staff and outreach workers at UTEC expose rivalries underlying gang violence; rival gang members attend retreats and negotiate terms for peace.
  • UTEC provides benefits to its SWs that include a monthly paid wellness day, three weeks of vacation, three personal days and 10 sick days.

Street outreach workers (SWs) are members of a community who establish supportive relationships with violent youth. SWs supply educational and job-training opportunities to gang members or kids who might otherwise join a gang. This paper is the first peer-reviewed evaluation of a youth violence prevention program.