Thursday, April 11, 2013
On a weekday evening, kids chatter and laugh in an upstairs room of the Vista Community Clinic. It’s a weekly neighborhood gathering and several parents are sitting at nearby tables, babies on their knees.
Maria Mendez, a member of a local church, has organized this meeting every Wednesday night for the last two years.
“We are parents and grandparents of the kids,” she said. “We want all the kids to be out of the streets, especially at night, because it is dangerous for them. We work in a high-risk neighborhood, so we try to offer the kids some activities. This is our commitment.”
Mendez said far too many kids and teens in the Libby Lake and Mesa Marguerita neighborhoods have little adult supervision.
She told the story of the girl who was killed last month in a gang-related shooting one night in Libby lake Park. She described how 13 year old Melanie Virgen was left virtually an orphan after her father died several years ago and her mother suffered from severe depression and returned to Mexico. This left Melanie to find her own way, living with relatives who, in many cases, were barely more than teens themselves. That helps explain why she was out after dark by Libby Lake.
The community near Oceanside’s Libby Lake, where two teens were shot dead last month, is rallying to keep children off the street after dark. But resources to help them are limited.
It’s not an unusual story in this neighborhood, Mendez says, and it's only made worse when parents are suddenly deported if they are discovered to be living in the country illegally. Mendez said she is trying to build a better sense of trust between neighborhood families and the police.
Her weekly meetings touch a few dozen people. There are other community activities near Libby Lake, but Marjory Piece, director of neighborhood services for Oceanside, said city funding for neighborhood activities has dropped sharply in recent years.
The city has closed two of four resource centers, including the Melba Bishop Resource Center, which Pierce said has left many youth with few options for a safe place to go.
“The funding for gang prevention or for at-risk youth really subsided in the most recent economy,” she said. “The money just hasn’t been there, so many of the programs have disappeared. “
Pierce said city staff is surveying where the biggest gaps in community services are and hope to organize a summer camp at Libby Lake when school is out. But, she said, they will have to rely on volunteers to staff it.
Programs like these might not have prevented the fatal shooting of the two teens, Pierce said. Two of the four people arrested for the shooting lived in Vista.
“But I do believe that when we have supervised programs, especially those programs that help youth make good choices, perhaps they wouldn’t have been in a dark park at that hour of the night, because they would have made a better choice.”
The suspects arrested for the shooting are expected back in court on Wednesday, April 17th