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San Francisco Examiner Article--Too Many Victims
by: Alex Brown of the San Francisco Examiner

Thirty-four percent have access to guns.

    Forty-seven percent know someone who died from violence.

    Fifty percent were victims of violence.

    These are the shocking numbers of everyday life for children growing up in the Mission district, according to a new survey commissioned by the H.O.M.E.Y. project -- a Mission-based youth organization -- and underwritten by Choices For Youth campaign.

    As part of the study, 251 children from ages 12-17 were asked questions regarding violence in their everyday lives -- and the answers often were troubling.

    One 12-year-old boy said he had access to a gun anytime, and was well versed in how to use it. Others were similarly involved in street violence.

    "In a lot of cases, kids can get guns more easily than school supplies," said Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention institute. "I remember hearing from a kid who asked why he could get drugs and alcohol and guns easily, but couldn't get things like fruit and basic everyday needs.

    "To me that's shocking, but not surprising. Violence is complex, and to try and improve the situation, we have to look at a variety of different measures."

    Parenting, for one.

    Of all the topics covered in the H.O.M.E.Y. (Homeys Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) survey, the one recurring theme centered on informing children about the perils of violence.

    Alarmingly, 53 percent of those interviewed said they had no adult supervision between 3 and 6 p.m. on school days -- the hours they are most likely to become victims of crime -- while only 24 percent said they would talk to a parent if they witnessed a violent crime.

    Brenda Escobar, the 21-year-old director's assistant with H.O.M.E.Y., knows this all too well.

    As a 9-year-old, Escobar joined a gang that already involved members of her family.

    "We had our violent days, " Escobar said. "But once I went into a program and was taken off the streets, my life got a lot better."

    Escobar's co-worker, H.O.M.E.Y. executive director Julia Sabori, said parents and teachers should begin introducing the concepts of the dangers of guns and violence at elementary school level.

    Sure, it may seem a little extreme -- some could even interpret it as the erosion of a child's innocence.

    With violence already the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in the state, and with 71 percent of the Mission children surveyed knowing another child who has been the victim of violence, Sabori said new measures need to be taken.

    "It's pretty drastic at the moment," Sabori said. "Kids need to be made aware early. And they also need positive choices during nonschool hours to help protect them from becoming another statistic."

    Cohen, who will speak at a meeting of violence prevention experts at the Commonwealth Club today, went even further.

    "Teenagers don't manufacture guns," he said. "There's a profit in it for people, and that's an issue for our whole society. Possessing guns might have made sense in a 1915 rural environment -- but not in today's dangerous urban conditions."