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Those attending last week’s Neighborhood Leadership meeting got a bit of a preview from Mayor Andy Berke on certain items in the new city budget. The mayor did not reveal all, but instead mentioned three priorities of special interest to the neighborhood association officers present.
“Baby College.” Mayor Berke noted that proper (and loving) childcare from birth is essential to infants’ development, but that young parents may not know how to correctly care for their babies. The city will launch a program, based on the highly successful one implemented by the Harlem Children’s Zone, to teach parenting skills, including, as he pointed out, “the importance of reading to babies, even those too young to have language skills.” According to the HCZ website, “The Baby College gives expectant parents and parents of children ages 0-3 a strong understanding of child development and the skills to raise happy, healthy babies. Through workshops and home visits over the course of a 9-week term, parents gain expertise in a number of areas, including child behavior and safety; communication and intellectual stimulation; linguistic and brain development; and health and nutrition.” This program has the potential to have a direct impact on multiple quality of life issues in many Chattanooga neighborhoods.
• Housing Homeless Vets. The mayor vowed to find ways to end the shameful number of military veterans on the streets. According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, about 12 percent of the national homeless population are veterans. Of those, the vast majority are male, single, live in urban areas (like Chattanooga) and suffer from mental illness or alcohol/substance abuse. About 40 percent of these vets are African American. Two-thirds of them served for at least three years and one third were stationed in a war zone. “We will find a way to end their homelessness, in gratitude for their service,” the mayor said.
• Bridging the Digital Divide. Chattanooga may still hold the title of “Gig City,” but anyone who’s visited a public library recently is aware there is a very large group of people who have no private access to the Internet, much less broadband service. Mayor Berke stated that the new budget would include a plan to address this. “We have kids who have tablets at school and yet have no access to the Internet at home,” he said. This issue affects the state, the nation and the world—but with Chattanooga’s high rate of residents living in poverty, it’s even more acute here.
The mayor also noted that the newly appointed police chief, Fred Fletcher, would be arriving from Austin in mid-to-late June. Stay tuned to The Pulse for an interview with the new chief, who has promised to continue and support the city’s violence reduction initiative.