Drug abuse. Gang involvement. Low employment. High school suspension rates.
These are just some of the issues threatening the health, safety and success of young people on the East End, according to a draft version of a report compiled by Suffolk County and regional municipalities.
East End youth group directors, Suffolk County and town officials joined at the David Crohan Community Center Thursday evening, forming a “think tank” charged with addressing regional impacts negatively affecting local youth.
The group was working on compiling a report to present to county legislators and representatives from Suffolk County Health and Human Services departments with recommendations on addressing challenges affecting East End youth, including improving access to mental healthcare, helping youth find meaningful job opportunities and realistic transportation to those outlets.
“We want to assure financial support for East End’s youth not only doesn’t erode but increases over time,” said Nancy Lynott, Youth Bureau director for Southampton Town.
The document reveals several statistics government officials feel need to be addressed: a decrease of government funding, stagnation of household income, decrease of childcare subsidies, an increase of applications for food stamps and an increase in domestic violence.
With the draft version in place, they opened up the floor to interested community members Thursday night, hoping to enhance the report.
Several community group members, including representatives from The Retreat — a nonprofit focused on reducing domestic violence— local school districts, and the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Alliance highlighted the necessity of accessing reliable, quality mental health services.
“I see students who are self-injuring, suicidal, bulimic. I make probably five referrals a week for outside services” said one North Fork school psychologist. “ The local agency [made available through Suffolk County] has a wait lists for months.”
While there are several private practitioners in the area, many students who need their services don’t have adequate insurance to access it. Ms. Lynott added that between 20 to 40 percent of East End youth do not have health insurance to access care if they wanted to, according to statistics reported in Newsday.
“Insurance opens the door for those services, so that is needed,” she said. “Many families do not know about the [Children’s Health Insurance Program] or are intimidated by the enrollment process.”
Available and meaningful employment was among the other challenges discussed.
“There’s no hope. There aren’t jobs,” said Rachel Troy, a 24-year-old college graduate who recently moved back home to Sag Harbor. “We need to create jobs. We need to make ourselves useful.”
Ms. Troy has a degree in journalism and public relations from SUNY New Paltz, and said she hasn’t had much luck finding local positions to even apply to in her field, and attempts at finding a seasonal job at a restaurant have been unsuccessful.
Southampton Town board member Brad Bender recommended working with local farming and construction business to set up apprenticeship programs for youth interested in working right out of high school. Such apprenticeships are commonly offered through job unions, something the East End does not have many of, he said.
Municipal representatives also spoke to the challenge of finding quantifiable, reliable data to compile the report, which relies mainly on census information and school surveys.
“Trying to get a good picture is a monumental challenge,” Ms. Lynott said. “Different towns keep statistics differently. Having a uniform or standard system would make it a lot easier to understand.”
Philip Beltz, Youth Bureau director and special projects coordinator for Southold Town said he was encouraged by the involvement Thursday night.
“We had great representation from al of the East End towns,” he said. “We believe the regional approach is the way to go to try and address some of these major issues.”
To offer recommendations to be considered in the report, contact Mr. Beltz at [email protected].