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Youth In The Loop Forum Generates Feedback

Raises ideas of rec center, programming for U. City teens

August 10, 2011
Where and how to find social, educational and even career opportunities for youth who say they no longer feel comfortable in the Loop was the goal of a recent forum held by University City officials.

On Aug. 3, University City officials held a forum on "Youth in the Loop" at the Hemen Park Community Center. The event was attended by approximately 50 people, and included both teenagers and adults. Among the groups represented at the event were the University City Council, police department, school district and public library. Representatives of Metro also attended.

"We want to get input from you on what you want. From the city's point of view, it is important to support our youth with productive things to do," said University City Manager Lehman Walker.

One idea that was mentioned several times, both by city representatives and by some of those in attendance, was the possibility of a teen center. The idea of such a facility was something that Walker described as "a good one." However, issues of funding, location and the types of programming offered were raised.

In regard to location, several options were offered, including building onto or expanding University City High School or utilizing one of the facilities at Hemen Park either the community center or the Centennial Commons.

One option that was mentioned several times was Delmar-Harvard Elementary School, near the Loop. The school was closed by the school district as part of a consolidation process, and its students moved to other schools in the district.

It was suggested that if such a facility were to be built it could be more than just a place to "hang out." The facility could have adult staff acting as mentors to offer educational or even career training the latter for students who may not seek a traditional college education.

One big issue with a rec center and programming would be funding. Some suggested fundraisers and seeking corporate donations or sponsorships as a way to raise money.

For the more than a dozen teenagers in attendance, calls for a rec center and other opportunities came in part because they no longer feel comfortable in the Loop due to what they perceive as an overwhelming police presence.

"We feel harassed, and that they (the police) are against us. They are there to protect us, but we don't feel protected," said Asia Garrison, a student at University City High School.

Several students said they do not go to the Loop as often as they used to because of the increased police presence. They claim that repeated requests by police to see identification is unfair, as are directions from the police to move along, when they (the students) have only come out of a store moments before or after making a purchase.

Several students at the meeting also claimed that not only are fewer teens going to the Loop, but fewer people in general are patronizing the area, leaving it "more dead than it was before," according to one student.

Walker disputed the claims that fewer people are going to the Loop, and said that the increased police presence did what it was supposed to do.

Earlier in the year, the city increased the number of police patrolling the area after several business owners complained that large groups of youth were blocking the sidewalks and streets and harassing shoppers and workers.

"We have identified some suggestions tonight, but they require resources and money," Walker said. "We do have a corroborative relationship with the school district, but you cannot solve the problems by just throwing money at them. This is going to be an ongoing dialogue, and we value the ideas of young people. Why we are having meetings like this, is so that we can put a plan together."

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