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NOTES on Young people, guns, violence and gangs (to be edited and developed) Young people such as those living

at Centrepoint – a charity for homeless young people that I used to lead - experience directly the sub-cultures where possession and use of knives and guns is prevalent. Some staff had teenage children whose safety greatly concerned them. These observations, developed with one experienced manager (and mother) Sharon Lewis, are grounded in: issues raised by staff and young people; lessons of incidents; the experience of staff working in South London for a number of years; discussions with Black young people and some Black workers about the implications of an increase in the numbers and incidents of young women being violent. From time to time someone or some agency or the government proposes vigorous action by the state. However, state action is not a threat to some young people, indeed it is seen as part of the game they play. In any event some young people think very short-term about their future, so the threat of death or prison is not a deterrent. They can be more afraid of other young people than of the law. At the level of the individual a range of interconnected themes are relevant. Lack of self-worth, and of self-esteem Self-pity A lack of aspirations for the future Greed A lived experience of poverty, and wanting to escape it by not having to take the route their parents may have taken - possibly unsuccessfully; often at length. Boredom Peer pressure Lack of understanding of pain and death Guns are interesting to some young people precisely because they cause pain and death. The focus on pain and death that may come from films, music, games- many people of all ages are fascinated by this, and young people are no exception. Upbringing may be a major factor and the experience of poverty. May be imitating parental behaviour – ‘the bad boys may be the sons of the bad men’. Attitudes that young people hold towards work in general e.g. work is not worth the time – ‘pay is too low’, there are other ways to ‘make’ money which provide a high income even with low skills (which is the situation for many young people); do not want to work the way up the ladder; the job may not seem worth the work involved ; being ‘disrespected’ by such conditions as long hours for low pay. Going along the journey school – then college - then work may seem irrelevant to a happy life.

Most young people do worry about and feel the need to get a job, but some do not really care how they do the job; some do not really care about the job, it is irrelevant, it’s not really their problem, they want to earn money. ‘Murder brings respect’. Other points/issues to consider How is society seen by young people, how does society encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise? Government plans are perceived (whatever their intentions) to keep the poor in poverty … Society is encouraging blatant materialism, yet rising expectations and prices exclude people even further Black people feel other black people are more of a threat to them in reality, but less of a threat in terms of the legal recourse. The relationship between police and young people can be very poor. Police are experienced as, and some/many would claim are, very ‘disrespectful’ and encourage a hostile relationship at an early stage in the life of young Black youths i.e. Stop and Search, disrespectful attitude when arresting, and abusing their powers. Some young people may feel that the Police even encourage crime, make youth feel inferior, create competition against the youth and the police. Young people are presented with killing and murder as entertainment on a daily basis i.e. if a young person enjoys rap/ hip/hop music/ ReggaeBashment music/ computer games e.g. Grand Theft Auto. We need to consider how young people can be positively entertained – so they are not constantly presented with detailed descriptions of killing or being killed. Gang culture There has always been a ‘gang culture’, but now this is based on shared experience of institutional racism, poverty, poor housing, lack of resources, police ‘oppression’, feeling (being) ‘disrespected’ as a cultural group. Group dynamics – gangs understand it is more difficult to blame a group than an individual, therefore the gang provides a form of protection from detection of crime, groups also exacerbate behaviour whether that is negative or positive. Black People have a sub-culture that is not positively recognised in England, but Black people prefer to live within this sub-culture. This culture can be viewed as negative, by black people aspiring to European values. Need to understand there are various cultures in operation within the ‘Black Community’ it therefore becomes more difficult to find one solution to the problems that exist. Youth culture Young people need to keep up with ‘youth culture’ – that culture is increasingly of materialism. Youth culture is tied strongly to outward displays of wealth, attracting attention because of wealth (Flossing), people who have wealth on display are respected (Players) (Ballers), individuals who are jealous of people displaying wealth are not respected (Haters). The fact that a

terminology has arisen from these concepts, may demonstrate how significant these factors are in young people’s lives. Home culture Experiences can include: being teased in school for being poor, being brought up poor; child being reminded by parents they are poor; poverty being blamed for young people not having the ‘right’ trainers, access to activities etc. Parents discussing scarcity in money, food, heating, hot water, clothes, being made to feel different and poor.

Third sector and young people Some third sector organisations may be well placed to deal with the issues that affect young people – can get alongside them, trust, time, accessibility We all need to be aware of the role institutions play in the lives of young people, and how public institutions are viewed by young people – often negatively. Must be careful not to push third sector organisations into quasistate behaviour, thereby losing any advantage they have. There is a deep-seated lack of trust in institutions i.e. educational, justice – that is derived from own/ family/ friends’ past and current experiences. Young people feel able to trust the third sector as we are not seen as controlling, we work with young people and offer advice and support them to achieve; we do not force. This is important; it means young people can exercise choice. We respect young people (a necessary condition for fostering self-respect) and their views and wants; we listen and encourage their aspirations, although sometimes they may seem unrealistic, but do encourage increasing realism.

Centrepoint’s current response The Centrepoint services offer short emergency and medium-term transitional housing and support to young people. Throughout this period, we are able to work with young people to help them build on intangible elements of self which family and other institutions may not have previously had the opportunity or the inclination to develop. We recognise for change to be sustainable it as to be driven and owned by the individual. The Centrepoint Support and Development approach focuses on this by working “with young people, rather than doing things ‘to’ or ‘for’ them” (Centrepoint Support and Development Toolkit and see our principles) And by: “intervening to enable young people to improve their lives by developing sustainable skills which they can draw upon as adults long after they have left our services” (Centrepoint Support and Development Toolkit, and see our principles)

This dynamic is indicative of the preventative nature of working which is common to Centrepoint. This is often overlooked as the outcomes are not immediately evident, and are not easily attributed to the support service provided by Centrepoint. Our support and development approach stresses important intangibles (selfrespect, self-confidence, self-esteem, resilience…) and non-cognitive skills. We have services related to drug (incl. alcohol) issues and mental health Responding to homelessness We are able to build relationships and are able to exert a positive influence We are able to work with young people so they are able to identify and tackle destructive behaviour patterns, and learn new ones. We can help them throw off damaging social identities and adopt more positive ones. We do this by respecting the person. Ability to offer a flexible sustained approach to working, necessary because the problems are deep seated. “The relationship with the support worker/provider that is key to the successful outcome for young people” (Centrepoint Support and Development Toolkit and see our principles).

Future action Recognise there is no quick fix. Issues of race and class are also built into the problems. Peer mentoring has a place A long term strategy is required because younger children are adopting the destructive behaviour that they are witnessing. Work with young people to develop positive activities to combat the negative messages coming from entertainment sources etc. v3 (10/3/07)