OPAL members, Evanston residents concerned about potential budget cuts to youth services


Brian Meng/Daily Senior Staffer

OPAL board member Alex Morgan at the group’s Thursday meeting. Attendees discussed their concerns regarding the proposed 2019 city budget.

Maddy Daum, Reporter

The Organization for Positive Action and Leadership on Thursday discussed the cuts in Evanston’s 2019 proposed budget regarding at-risk youth programs and mental health services.

OPAL hosted a racial equity in city budgeting meeting at the Grace Lutheran Church, located at 1430 South Blvd., open to members of the nonprofit and Evanston citizens. The OPAL board presented a PowerPoint presentation addressing the proposed budget and how it would impact the department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, as well as the Health and Human Services Department.

The budget will be finalized in the next few months after feedback from four upcoming budget meetings, which are open to the community.

OPAL board member Alex Morgan said this meeting was a start to assessing the city’s priorities and engaging residents around topics that are important to them, specifically the youth outreach programs.

“I think the reason folks are most attracted to (youth programs) in this organization is because we are talking about folks who are working with at-risk youth in our community,” Morgan said. “While there are a lot of things that are really important in our budget, this is something that I think will have larger ripples across the board.”

Roger Williams, OPAL’s president, emphasized the proposed department reorganization of the Youth and Young Adult Department, which serves clients that are majority black and low-income or have criminal records. In a priority-based budgeting survey of Evanston residents earlier this year, this program was ranked second-most valuable out of more than 50 city services, he said.

Williams also addressed the possible cancellation of city activity at the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, which offers programs in the arts and fitness, in the 5th Ward, which has historically had challenges with city resources, he said, and is the only ward without a school.

“The main point is that both of these programs they cut, the Gibbs-Morrison and the reorganization of the youth and young adult program, those are affecting the most vulnerable people in this city,” Williams said. “When you cut these programs you are cutting some people right down and their safety net is gone.”

Ariel Jackson, who is a victim advocate with the Evanston Police Department, said one of the biggest issues in the budget is the reorganizing of the Youth and Young Adult Department.

Jackson’s own position is also threatened by the possible budget cuts because of the proposed plan to contract out her job to other agencies in Evanston. She said she has collaborated with the department to work with crime victims and respects their work.

“Vulnerable populations are always the first ones recommended (to be cut),” Jackson said. “I think that is done strategically because nobody wants to talk about those problems.”

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