A new team decked out in purple shirts hit the streets of Baltimore this week in pursuit of some of the most troubled and potentially dangerous young men in the city. The outreach workers are knocking on doors, but not to investigate or arrest the men. The team aims to do something more radical: hound them in the hopes of creating relationships that will disrupt the city’s cycle of violence, reports the Baltimore Sun. “If the young person slams the door in my face, I will be back the next day and the next day, and finally he will be so annoyed that he will at least listen to what I have to say,” said Kurtis Palermo, one of a dozen workers with Roca, an anti-violence nonprofit that has come to the city after 30 years of operation in Massachusetts.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, local advocates and business leaders recruited Roca with a $17-million package to work for the next four years. Despite threats, slammed doors or complete opposition, Roca founder Molly Baldwin said her workers will invite 100 young men to join educational, life skills and transitional employment services. The men, ages 16 to 24, have serious charges on their records and are selected by probation and patrol agents, juvenile justice officials and police as being unwilling to give up street crime or gang involvement. Roca has a record of connecting high-risk young men to jobs and keeping them out of jail. The men typically take 15 to 18 months before they show up consistently. Last year, Roca worked with 854 high-risk young men in Massachusetts. Of those, 283 completed the first two years of intensive outreach and programming, with 84 percent avoiding new arrests and 76 percent holding jobs for at least three months. Roca means “rock” in Spanish.