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Catholic Charities aids anti-violence program in Newburgh -Record Online

CITY OF NEWBURGH — The man facing Ken O’Brien was desperate.

A wife, two kids and a new baby due. A job, but living in the basement of a house in a City of Newburgh neighborhood whose temptations he feared could lead back to prison.

“He said, ‘I need to get away from where I am,’” O’Brien said. “He just wanted to get out of the neighborhood.”

It is the kind of dilemma that O’Brien, director of social and human services for Catholic Charities Community Services of Orange County, is expected to take on as the organization’s point person for Group Violence Intervention, a carrot-and-stick anti-violence program being run in Newburgh.

The stick: Parolees and probationers considered members of gangs are mandated to attend “call-ins.” At those meetings police and the district attorney’s office warn that any act of violence by one member carries repercussions for the whole group, with even minor infractions aggressively prosecuted.

The carrot: A Catholic Charities-coordinated social services component in which O’Brien and his partners help fill an array of needs — from getting a security deposit for an apartment or finding a job training program to replacing an all-important ID or birth certificate.

Behind the idea is the belief that many of those at risk of shooting someone or being shot are stuck in a lifestyle they dream of escaping. Most coming forward for help just want to get out of their neighborhoods, O’Brien said.

“You see the younger guys, who have two or three kids, who have a significant other or a wife, and they’re just tired of it,” he said. “It’s not getting better out there.”

Newburgh has organized three call-ins since implementing the grant-funded GVI last year. Of the 33 parolees and probationers who attended the meetings at SUNY Orange, about 19 visited Catholic Charities to be assessed and 15 received assistance, O’Brien said.

In many ways they are the casualties of families torn apart by poverty, drug abuse and other problems. Newburgh police Lt. Rich Carrion said he has encountered young men whose home lives are so unstable they do not even have enough documentation to get a state ID, Social Security card or birth certificate.

“Having an opportunity to maybe find a way out of that life, there are many of them that would jump at that opportunity — to have a stable home environment (and) a stable job,” Carrion said.
Catholic Charities helped the man with the wife and family get a month’s rent after he found an apartment, O’Brien said. The man’s employer provided the security deposit, he said.

Another request came from a man unable to get ID and other documentation because his name was misspelled on paperwork he was given upon release from prison. The man, a legal immigrant, was living in a car with his girlfriend, O’Brien said.

“We tell them, if you take a step forward, we’ll take two steps toward you,” he said.

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