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The Chattanooga City Council has approved a new agreement with nonprofit Father to the Fatherless to continue to handle the social services side of the Violence Reduction Initiative, a gang deterrence program.

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Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn
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Chattanooga City Councilman Russell Gilbert
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The agency, which began as an initiative of Hope for the Inner City, has provided case management, mentoring and job preparedness services to gang members who seek to leave the life of gangs and violence behind for two years. Now on its own and in partnership with United Way, the organization has offered to do the job for $230,000 a year, a significant reduction compared to the city's $290,000 annual agreement with Hope for the Inner City, which has been in effect since 2014.

On Tuesday, Police Chief Fred Fletcher explained the lower cost as a matter of refocusing on the agency's core strengths: one-on-one mentoring to assist gang members with accessing the network of services available to them.

"That's why the cost is less than it was, because we are scaling back in order to best utilize your taxpayers' dollars and to focus on what Father to the Fatherless really does well and what is most at need for this at-risk group," Fletcher said.

The agency, under "the mentorship and tutelage" of United Way, will serve as a gateway to a wide range of services, he said.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of the agreement, with Councilman Larry Grohn casting the only "no" vote. Councilman Ken Smith abstained.

"I find that inconceivable that this council will move to approve this contract with the barest of information from this organization after two years," Grohn said, citing conversations with the agency last week in which council members grappled with how to determine the success of the gang deterrence program.

April Boozer, director of Father to the Fatherless, previously told council members the agency was still in the process of collecting and cataloging data.

According to a recent presentation, the agency currently monitors 54 active cases and has provided nearly 2,000 services among 667 gang members who have turned to Father to the Fatherless for help. Nearly 500 members have been offered job opportunities.

Grohn challenged the validity of counting the numbers of services provided and jobs offered as actual outcomes.

Councilman Russell Gilbert equated the agency's work to building a house.

"If we just save one [gang member], it is better than not saving anyone at all," Gilbert said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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