Youth concerns dominate stimulus discussion

March 17, 2009

About 20 Akron residents stood in line in Akron City Council chambers Monday night to lend their opinions as to how the city should spend money allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the economic stimulus package.

Suggestions included cleaning up the canal ways, rehabbing foreclosed and vacant homes and improving neighborhood police patrols. But the topic that received the most discussion was Akron's youth.

Residents, angered and saddened over the lack of opportunities that ultimately lead to youth crime, called for monies spent to create job, vocational training and recreational programs for Akron's teens and young adults.

Many lamented seeing young people loitering aimlessly on the streets, primed for drug dealing, vandalism or other crimes often simply out of boredom and lack of anything constructive in their lives. Several who spoke called for the return of citywide summer jobs for Akron teens.

"If they can't find a legitimate job, they will find a job," said Fred Johnson, hinting that an illegal job may be easier for some of these youth to come by. "I would like to see stimulus money support some of these nonprofit organizations that can help youth and help with jobs."

Others suggested the vacant housing and the youth problem can both be solved with programs that provide youths jobs cleaning or repairing some of the homes that are salvageable.

Council President Marco Sommerville (W-3) agreed that programs for youth deserve special consideration, and said that sentiment is not lost on the city administration.

"The city and the schools are working together to somehow hire student workers for the summer," Sommerville said. "That's definitely something that is needed."

Kenmore area resident Carolyn Duvall suggested that stimulus money be used to purchase a weed harvester to clean and maintain water quality along the Ohio and Erie Canal.

"Residual oil, gas, salt, fertilizer and litter make it unsafe for humans and wildlife, and it decreases property values along the canal," Duvall said. "I believe a weed harvester would qualify for stimulus money."

A number of residents suggested more federal monies could be directed to the Akron Police Department to improve neighborhood patrols, purchase more surveillance cameras in high-crime areas and put into place a comprehensive program to improve police-community relations.

Rosa Dortch lives in the neighborhood where 42-year-old Jeffrey Stephens was fatally shot during a police stop in July. Now, Dortch said she feels police are not responding to legitimate calls for help from residents in her neighborhood - mostly elderly - who live in fear of crimes committed by people from outside their community.

"We need to re-establish our relationships with police," said Dortch, who herself was recently robbed. "There are loving people that live on our street who are afraid."

Others recommended money be used for expanded health care coverage, support for local block clubs and business loans to inner city Akron entrepreneurs.

Sommerville praised the residents for coming out to share their thoughts, and praised the Mayor for going to bat for Akron in trips to Washington to discuss the economic stimulus.

"Our mayor was one of four mayors to sit down with President Obama to fight for stimulus money coming to cities rather than the states," Sommerville said. "Now, we will assess what we've heard from our constituents and look at ways to try to spend the money wisely and where it will have the most impact."