This story originally appeared in The Times of San Diego. Read it here in its original form. 

It has been 15 years.

In 2006, our region witnessed a tremendous spike in youth violence. This resulted in San Diego decision-makers convening with a goal of addressing youth needs. They identified the catalyst of the tragedy: lack of opportunities and mentorship for our youth as a result of slashed funding for youth programs and services.

Elected officials, community organizers, concerned public servants, religious leaders and parents created a plan that would bring a better future for San Diego. The cornerstone of the plan was the creation of a government office within the city of San Diego with the power to coordinate collaboration for policy development and service provision.

Yet after years of tireless advocacy, a Youth Development Office never came to be.

Then the cataclysmic year of 2020 happened and youth disconnection only worsened. The global pandemic heightened existing inequities many of the youth in our communities face. Violence, food insecurity, and other crises rose in scope and reach.

According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition there are 284,000 nutrition-insecure children across San Diego county. That’s 40% of our county’s children. Our kids are hurting. Other painful numbers according to SDHC:

  • As of November 2020, 1 in 3 children are nutrition, up from 1 in 4 the previous year
  • During the pandemic, the hunger relief sector increased the total amount of food assistance by a whopping 73%
  • Nearly 50% of communities of color were food insecure
  • People with disabilities are now 40% food insecure

As a result, Mayor Todd Gloria has allocated funding to youth programming in his recent budget proposal — acknowledging that youth needs must be addressed if we wish to see a complete  recovery. Yet there is still no dedicated space or consolidated plan for the city to ensure the well-being of youth and their families.

As members of the Youth Will coalition, the authors propose a central Office of Child & Youth Success. Our coalition is diverse and ready to help plan and strategize a youth master plan that examines the needs of children and youth in the city of San Diego.

This will allow our leaders to thoroughly examine what every child needs to ensure they have sufficient resources to become productive and successful adults. It would also consolidate and connect youth programs for the greatest impact. This office will also support working families by increasing access to services like childcare as San Diegans go back to work in post-pandemic times.

This new office is critical if we want to make a resilient, equitable, and racially just recovery from COVID-19 for historically underserved families. Youth voices and experiences will be an integral part of this office.

One of this op-ed’s co-authors and Youth Will organizers, Safia Hadari, recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune about the struggles she experienced with navigating the healthcare system as a young person from a low-income, immigrant background.

“Our social safety nets don’t consider that perspective,” I said, “but in hindsight I can now point to what barriers I was coming up against in these various systems. At the time, I didn’t have the language to describe that. With sufficient research and evaluation into these experiences, we can strengthen our safety nets to ensure that no young person is enduring those kinds of things.”

Indeed, that is the mission: heed the voices and needs of children, youth, and families-especially in communities of color.

Our families need structural change and a place in our city that will provide intergenerational support. We are asking for $350,000 — a very small fraction of the $4.6 billion budget the Mayor proposed.

Six of the nine City Council members supported the Office of Child & Youth Success idea in their budget memos for the mayor’s consideration in January, an indication of a growing need within these council districts. Those members were Sean Elo-Rivera, Raul Campillo, Monica Montgomery, Joe LaCava, Vivian Moreno, and Stephen Whitburn. Councilmembers Marni Von Wilpert and Chris Cate did not include the office in their memos, but have voiced support for components of it around supporting working families.

There is still time for this item to be added before the budget is finalized in mid-June. We call on the Mayor and City Council to prioritize youth. It is imperative to allocate funding for the creation of this office. We also call on San Diegans to contact their council representatives and urge them to fund this initiative.

Thank you to our partners and coalition members who have spearheaded and supported this effort. This work cannot be done alone so it is crucial to have community leaders and members behind us.

Our children’s future depends on it.