San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Monday that a community ambassadors program in the city’s southeast sector is now permanent after a successful yearlong pilot program.
The program was created in response to several high-profile violent assault incidents–many of which were committed against elderly Asian people–in the city’s District 10 in the spring of 2010, said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.
Pon said the ambassador program was created to bridge the gap between ethnicities and cultures in the diverse area–which includes the Bayview, Crocker Amazon and Outer Mission neighborhoods–and “act as the eyes and ears of the community.”
The 12 ambassadors include five males and seven females who speak eight languages and range in age from their late teens to early 40s.
“We want the team to reflect the community,” Pon said.
The ambassadors are sent out in teams of two, with an African American ambassador teamed up with one who is bilingual, according to Pon.
“I think part of the tension comes from cultural and linguistic differences,” Pon said. “We want our community to remain diverse and robust.”
Throughout the pilot year, the program members attended 35 training sessions, some of which lasted from three to five days, with violence prevention experts and law enforcement agencies.
Ambassadors logged more than 22,000 interactions with residents during the pilot program, Pon said.
Their interactions included reporting crimes, assisting elderly residents, providing medical assistance and distributing bilingual materials about 311 and transit information.
Team members also conducted two surveys regarding the ambassador program’s effectiveness to gauge public opinion, and Pon said the results were overwhelmingly positive, with 47 percent of the roughly 600 residents polled responding that they felt safer riding the San Francisco Municipal Railway and 25 percent reporting that they felt safer in the street with the ambassadors present.
Organizers worked with police and studied crime statistics to identify areas where the program was most needed. Teams can be found along two Muni routes–the 9-San Bruno bus line and the T-Third light rail line.
Ambassadors will be riding Muni and interacting with merchants and residents along the routes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pon said organizers hope to someday expand the program into more districts, although funding is a roadblock. A mix of government funds and grants from the private sector currently pay for the program.
“I’m writing grants like crazy,” Pon said. “My dream is a large, unrestricted grant.”
Erika Heidecker, Bay City News