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Halfway through its pilot program, Syracuse's Safer Streets Initiative makes progress

Ava Pukatch

Syracuse's Safer Streets pilot program is halfway complete and city officials say the program is working and police say none of the participants have had involvement in gun-related activities since starting.

There are 55 participants in the Safer Streets Pilot Program who have received on-the-ground services for about three months now. David Hills, who was formerly incarcerated, is serving as one of the credible messengers or mentors. He said part of his role is to meet the people where they are.

"I hate to say it, I don't wear chains, I don't like to. But sometimes when I go outside and I have to talk to the crowd that I talk to, I have to again meet them. So I'll have to do what I have to do to make myself relatable because I know what they're looking for. They're looking for what I had to see."

The program also provides workforce training, conflict mediation and therapy for the participants aged 18 to 24.

Hills said as the program continues to develop, he wants to see curriculum and a dedicated space where people could meet with each other. He said the credible messengers come from all different parts of the city and today coexist and now they want to be the example for participants in the Safer Streets program.

"Having a space where these guys, a neutral space, where these guys could see us cooperating, doing what we do, engaging," Hills said. "Having a space to again, engage somewhere where we're not taking up their time because we overstand that they're dealing with a short attention span. And so we just want to be impactful and effective in what we're doing."

Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens says the city is looking at what happens next after the pilot program funded by $1 million in ARPA money ends.

"Will the program look exactly the way it looks like now? Probably not," Owens said. "We will absolutely begin to look at, particularly as we get through the summer, evaluating components of it and then as we go into the new fiscal year, really looking at the city budget or even other funding that's available. There is quite a bit of funding out here through U.S. and New York State funding sources that we can also apply to."

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.