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Top Ten Reasons why Chicago needs a Comprehensive Chicago Directory of Youth Violence Resources - Part I

Printable version (1800 words)

Here's a question that will either put you to sleep or strike you as a crucial first step in Chicago's long-term goal of making itself a safe city for all Chicagoans, not just some. The idea would be to make Chicago the safest big city in America (as any Chicago mayor would be proud to call it) not just in terms of low crime rates but in terms of low levels of youth violence of all kinds.

The question: In Chicago how great is the need for a searchable, accessible, comprehensive and current directory of resources that all Chicagoans, young and old, can use to reduce violence in their families, neighborhoods citywide and even region-wide? This would be a multimedia, multi-device, neighborhood specific list of resources made specific to all 77 Chicago neighborhoods. It would be made available in versions designed for five audiences:
  1. Young people
  2. Adults: parents, teachers, community leaders 
  3. Donors (foundations, individuals, businesses) and Advertisers (businesses)
  4. Chicago's media
  5. City Hall and other policy makers at local, state, national levels.

This directory would gather, publicize and constantly update all resources and kinds of resources - educational, public and mental health, criminal justice, jobs and careers, recreational, cultural, spiritual - relating to the reduction of youth violence in Chicago.

Most everyone who's working to reduce youth violence in Chicago tells me the need for such a directory is urgent. Why? I see all kinds of reasons, all of them, when you think of it, stemming from the information bottleneck that denies every Chicagoan including policy makers full awareness of existing youth violence resources! (BTW, the term information bottleneck came from a smart young man - I  never got his name - who spoke at the June 25 meeting of the Parents' Political University in Austin.)

I've been thinking about this topic recently and came up with a Letterman-style Top Ten list of reasons for it:

Very funny Dave,  but what matters in Chicago is children and kids' lives, not dogs and pet peeves.
So here goes: Chicagoland needs a comprehensive directory of youth violence resources so it can

10. Begin to do what the Bears, Bulls, Cub, Sox and Blackhawks already do in spades for the entire Chicagoland region: unify city and suburban residents alike. A comprehensive youth violence directory of city/surburban resources will be a crucial first step in the ongoing process of empowering all Chicagoans to be as committed to their city and region's future as they are to the futures of their pro sports teams. 
Note. This directory would not only list suburban as well as city resources but also list resources for all kinds of youth violence: bullying, sexual, self-harm, and domestic. All of these in addition to the gun/gang/drug kinds of violence that are usually associated with the city. (And don't forget that the suburbs now have 15,000 gang members, as compared to the city's 100,000 or more, according to Chicago Crime Council's 2012 Gang Book.) 

Note 1. Drug use in the suburbs is about the same as in the city, as the authoritative Illinois Youth Survey confirms. For many years, the Survey has found that past 30-day use of marijuana, for instance, has been almost 30% for city and suburban high school seniors alike (though the 2014 findings for the city appear to show a higher rate in the city.

Over the years there's been some (but not enough) good reporting on the link between city/suburban drug use and drug distribution:
Here (Chicago Tribune, Jean Latz Griffin, 1986, terrific article)
Here (Chicago Tribune, Robert McCoppin, 2009
Here (WBEZ radio, Chip Mitchell, heckuva story from Mexico in 2013)
Here (Huffington Post, with links to Mike Dumpke's WBEZ/Chicago Reader series about West Side heroin dealing as a business proposition, 2014)
Here (Chicago Tribune, 2014)
Note 2. About the suburbs: I've lived in suburban Glenview for the past 16 years. My experience of suburban public schools - including several top-ranked Illinois high school schools, at one of which my son is now a junior - has been that up 30% of students at these schools suffer from forms of violence for which students see drug abuse, initially at least, as a way to reduce pain or simply to get to sleep. And because media pay almost zero attention to these kinds of youth violence, there are almost no community-wide efforts to address them.
9.  Give all Chicagoans, city and suburban, some hard evidence that Chicago is at long last  beginning to address all forms of its systemic youth violence problem systemically,

8.  Give researchers in area universities data for use in developing city and region wide strategies for addressing youth violence. For instance, for determining which city neighborhoods are underserved or overserved with youth violence resources.

7.  Give Chicago's elementary and secondary schools neighborhood-specific resources that teachers and staff can use in two ways: to help individual students and to give entire student bodies a sense of belonging to their local communities,

6.  Generate volunteers for the mostly non-profit organizations that provide these resources: volunteer tutors and mentors, for instance, for the approximately 200,000 CPS students who currently need them,

5.  Connect existing violence reduction groups with each other so they can interact more efficiently and cooperatively with each other, including creating collaborations to raise funds or to improve program outcomes.

4.  Give Chicago's media reliable, detailed information for their use in supplementing their existing Crime Story coverage of youth violence with Full Story (use this link, not the screenshot below) coverage that empowers Chicagoans to be problem solvers as opposed to mourners or victims of youth violence,

How Chicago's public information system - its media - can give Chicagoans the tools they need to reduce youth violence in their neighborhoods.
3.  Give prospective funders - foundations, business groups and private donors - comprehensive information about existing violence reduction resources. The need here is to remedy the drastic shortage of funds that currently hampers the efforts of all but a very few existing violence reduction groups.

2. Inform government leaders at city, state, and national levels whose often astonishing ignorance of existing resources, including the absence of resources in the neighborhoods that need them most, prevents government at all levels from addressing youth violence effectively,

1. Remedy the information bottleneck that denies Chicagoans living in the city's roughest neighborhoods access to existing violence reduction resources already available to them in their neighborhoods. The tragedy here is of lives lost because Chicagoans did not know about resources that could have saved lives: likely hundreds or thousands of lives had all Chicagoans had access to a reliable and comprehensive directory of these resources five or ten years go.
OK, so why hasn't Chicago had a directory like this for decades? Good question for our Aldermen and State Representatives and Senators. And our Congressmen and Senators in Washington. And for City Hall and citywide organizations like Chicago Community Trust and United Way. Better question: what will it take for Chicago to get one?

Two people I know - Becky Levin of Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY) and Dan Bassill of the Tutor/Mentor Institute - have worked hard to create a directory like this. Their answer? You guessed it. It's money. But to my knowledge, no one has ever attempted even an informal cost estimate for directory like this, let alone advanced strategies for underwriting the costs of creating one, keeping it current, and disseminating it to all Chicagoans.

So Part II of this post will do three things. It will
  • Give a rough estimate of the three costs of creating, disseminating and maintaining such a directory. By "rough" I mean really rough: to the nearest million or even five million. After decades of failed, piecemeal efforts to empower Chicagoans to reduce youth violence and save lives citywide, I expect that this directory, with its life-saving, city-unifying capabilities, would easily be worth $20 million. But I bet costs would a fraction of that amount.
    • If this estimate sounds off the wall, bear in mind the $51 million cost of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), a magnificent and epic survey of Chicago neighborhoods conducted between 1995 and 2005 that was underwritten by the MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Department of Justice. 
    • The tragedy of PHDCN and its splendid finding of the value of neighborhood collective efficacy is that, upon completion, nothing ever came of it. Nothing! 
    • As PHDCN's Lead Investigator, Felton Earls, said (discretely) at a 2013 Harvard Club of Chicago presentation, Chicago simply dropped the ball on PHDCN after its completion. $51 million down the drain, so far as Chicago was concerned. Undaunted, Earls went to successfully implement collective efficacy in Tanzania and Costa Rica, focusing on children as change agents.
  • Part II will also throw out some ideas as to how a Citywide directory might be funded. These will focus on:
    • A multisource or "rainbow" spectrum of funders based on mutually beneficial partnerships created among existing violence reduction groups, funders, City Hall, Chicago's media, major and local advertisers and the people of Chicago, including Chicago's young people.

    • A third convenor/aggregator group is the Tutor/Mentor Institute. T/MI convenes existing organizations at its bi-annual Tutor/Mentor conferences (next one: May 8, 2015) and aggregates scores of organizations. Director Dan Bassill is a systems thinker whose blogs and websites will give you free and full access to hundreds of his hyperlinked maps. This one, below, instantly links you to some thirty local groups. And it's current to January 15, 2015. (To access an organization's website on it, just click on the little gray box, then click the link that shows up)


  1. This is outstanding (though I may be biased because it mentions me)! It's the first honest assessment I've seen of the importance of a directory and the resources it would really take to create it. I can't wait to read Part 2.

  2. Steve, I encourage you to look at others who create searchable directories that help people find organizations where they can get involved. Here's two examples:

    Volunteer Match, a national directory of organizations where people can volunteer. Browse the site at and borrow the best features for a Chicago opportunities directory. Look at their 990 to get a sense of what it costs them to manage this on an annual basis. It looks like total expenses were 4.3 million in 2012.

    In this section of the Tutor/Mentor web site I point to a variety of on-line directories. Links to Program Locators -

    In this section I point to other online directories to help volunteers find places to be involved.

    Someone who is serious about building a master directory for a city should look at what others are already doing. Based on this review, you would build a directory that hopefully, captures the best features of the best ones you'd look at. My list is a starting point. Many of these organizations have a 990 report on line that you could look at to get a sense of overall expense. Or you could call them and ask what it costs to build their directories.

    I systematic set of Google searches could discover other directories to look at beyond my own list. You might even look at Europe and other countries who do some very good work.

    My point is that this is a time consuming process. Yet it should be done in order to get the best understanding of total cost, and to build the best possible directory and service to users in the Chicago region.

    I could not begin to give a realistic estimate of what it would cost to do this work because I've used a patchwork of volunteer and paid talent. However, if you understand that building the technology platform is step 1, filling it with content is step 2. Reaching out to draw users and teaching them to use it is step 3. Then keeping it updated from year to year is step 4. From 1993 to 2011 I spent around $2 million on the Tutor/Mentor Connection, a large part of which was devoted to building the information base and sharing that with a wide range of users.

    1. Thanks Becky and Dan for your comments. Both mean a lot to us. CCM is contemplating a Kickstarter campaign to create serviceable (not comprehensive) Directories in Chicago's ten highest-crime neighborhoods. What we've thought of so far is at


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