New City Program Aimed at 'Directionless' Young People

The City of San Antonio is putting together an ambitious plan to try to reach out and salvage the most marginalized young people in the community, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

There are an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 young people in San Antonio between the ages of 26 and 24 who are neither working nor in school, and as such are rootless, directionless, and outside the reach of most social programs which rely on institutions. So called 'Opportunity Youth' make up fully 15% of the city's total population of young males and females in that age group, the highest percentage of any major city in the state.

Rebecca Flores, who heads the city's Human Services Department, says many of these kids have fallen through the cracks in programs designed to, for example, keep them in school.

"Once that dropout happened or graduated and still weren't working, there was nothing out there for that population," she said.

Not only do these directionless young people commit many of the city's crimes, they are most vulnerable to societal challenges like drug abuse, homelessness, and unwanted pregnancy.

And in addition, at a time of nearly full employment, the Dallas Fed has labeled 'Opportunity Youth' has a key factor in improving the state's economy, as more and more firms report a lack of available skilled workers as their number one barrier to continued growth.

Flores says the programs to reach out to 'Opportunity Youth' stemmed from City Council's decision last year to decriminalize truancy, leading to questions about how the city can deal with the root causes of truancy.

She says since these young people are not connected to many of the usual structures through which assistance can be provided, from schools to families, churches, and institutions, she is not expecting to decrease the number of directionless youth in the city by more than ten percent in the coming five years.

"Its going to be hard, our numbers are not going to look great," she said. "These are the young adults that institutions have failed them."

One effort which is now underway, the establishment of the 'Next Level' Youth Opportunity Center, which can steer opportunity youth to programs to help them deal with challenges ranging from mental illness to poverty to violence, as well as toward job training and educational opportunities.

The Next Level Center is sponsored by the City, Goodwill San Antonio, and Communities in Schools.

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