People in positions of power need to go out to communities battling drugs, crime and neglect and put resources into them and give people living there “a chance”, a conference on young people and gangs has heard.
Street projects trying to build up relationships with young people caught up in the drugs trade told the conference that they can, and do, have an impact – if they are funded.
The calls were backed up Dr Matt Bowden, who has published research on the area, saying the State needed to “fully resource” youth, social and drug services.
His research, The Drug Economy and Youth Interventions, found that drug dealing was seen as a type of “work” among young people who looked at it as their way of buying consumer goods given the limited legal alternatives.
The study, commissioned by the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, said that intimidation and violence drives local drug markets and enables drug bosses to keep communities “insecure, fearful and subordinate”.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Bowden said he found that the relationship between youth workers, social workers and drug services with young people caught up in the trade was “very strong” and that the workers were “very passionate” about their job.
He said ten years of austerity in communities – in which local state and voluntary services were slashed – had “not been replenished”.
Dr Bowden said the State “needs to fully resource” these services and come up with interventions to help those entangled in dealing and drug-related debt to exit that world.
People from two innovative projects doing just that spoke of their experience at the conference, which was held in St Andrews Community Centre in Rialto.
Presenting their work, Gary Lawlor of Targeted Response to Youth, a pilot project in St Teresa Gardens complex in Dublin's south inner city, said interventions were not about slides but about working with young people on the street who see “drug dealing as the only way”.
Mr Lawlor said their pilot was part of the Teresa Gardens Regeneration Project, funded by Dublin City Council, and targeted eight local young men engaged in public drug dealing, polydrug use and anti-social behaviour.
He said the people in the flats complex had suffered high levels of intimidation, with locals “afraid to come out of their homes”.
He said their outreach work involved six months of “building trust” with the young men, after which they then tried to challenge it.
Mr Lawlor said a lot of their work was “basic” such as arranging appointments with doctors or the courts – with many of them with numerous bench warrants.
“They're not used to people working with them and showing compassion,” he said. “A lot of it is basic hand holding. We are telling them it doesn't have to be this way.”
Of the eight men, three to four are in drug treatment, two are in counselling, one is in part-time work and another in full-time work, he said.
But he pointed out that their funding is out in four months.
Anna Quigley, coordinator of Citywide, said people in power are living in a “different planet” and said the fact that their funding would run out in months, just as they were getting started, was “insanity”.
Angela Birch, manager of Easy Street outreach programme in Ballymun, north Dublin, said they have worked with 100 young people, aged 10-24, over the last ten years.
Key to this was building up “meaningful relationships” with the young people and have positive interactions with them.
She said they engaged with the interest of these youths in “health and fitness” and set up running clubs, taking part in Hell and Back events, and bike clubs.
She said the local community were reassured by the team's outreach presence and work by the project to clean up the area.
Dealing as a way to get consumer goods: “I think a lot of it comes down to social media, all this to do with image – all these nice things that you might have. Even in the last year, there was a very big thing around Moncler, Moncler jackets and Canada Goose.” [youth worker]
Dealing because of lack of alternative: “Your future is going to be unemployed, doing nothing, low income. You see your future as some fancy fella going off, mixing in with famous boxers and having a big car.” [social worker]
When drug debt wins over friendship: “He's a buddy of mine, he wouldn't do that.' And two weeks later he came in with black eyes, I think he'd a fractured arm. He knows then.” [drug worker]
Parents paying debts: “A mother will say 'I paid 300 quid last month and he's after coming in now and he owes 500 quid'” [drug worker]