Couple to help gangs kids in US

Joy and David James will work in the Mission District of San Francisco
Joy and David James will work in the Mission District of San Francisco
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A KIND-HEARTED couple from Edinburgh are to swap the Capital’s historic walkways for the mean streets of San Francisco.

Charity workers Joy James, 29, and her husband David, 34, from Barnton, will live and work amongst members of feared Latino street gangs the Norteños and Sureños.

The pair are heading to the US with InnerChange, a worldwide Christian charity whose missionaries specialise in living amongst marginalised people in areas of urban poverty.

Where they intend to call home is the notorious Mission District, which recently witnessed a host of stabbings and shootings that police blame on the long-running rivalry between the street gangs.

Some packing tips have been suggested too – including not to bring any blue or red clothes, as the area is presently the subject of a civil gang injunction that restricts the movements of dozens of alleged Norteños and prevents them from wearing red, the colour claimed by the gang. Sureños claim blue.

Joy, a former Mary Erskine’s pupil said: “We’re clearly not Latino so hopefully we shouldn’t draw too much attention in that regard. We won’t be packing too much blue or red, though, just in case.

“I’m excited about heading over there, if a little anxious. Last year we spent a fortnight in San Francisco working with the charity’s volunteers. This particular project has been running for over 20 years so they do have good relations with the gang members.

“We’re incredibly passionate about making a difference to these kids’ lives, helping them discover the gifts and the goodness they have, showing them that they are worth knowing, worth loving, and were made to do something greater with their lives than gang warfare.”

A high proportion of the young people the couple will be working with will have arrived in the US after illegally crossing the border from Central America.

Joy added: “They risk their lives to escape the poverty they have grown up in. However, jobs are scarce, especially for those with poor English, so they often turn to gangs and selling drugs to survive. The initiation into gangs is beating or rape and new members quickly become deeply entrenched in a life of crime, drug addiction, substance abuse, and violence.

“It takes a long time and lots of patience to see results, but InnerChange has seen gang members leave their life of crime, and gain lawful employment, some have even become volunteers and local leaders who now mentor young people.”

Joy and David are temporarily living with Joy’s parents while they wait for their visas.

They are required to raise the financial support they need to cover their basic living costs, as InnerChange staff do not receive a salary for their work.

Anyone who wants to help contact David and Joy by e-mail at

The streets of San Francisco

Homicide is the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 24 in San Francisco, with a local youth homicide rate nearly twice state-wide levels.

San Francisco had 50 homicides in 2011, the same number as 2010. Officials say the figure represents the second-lowest annual homicide total in the city in 50 years. There were 36 homicides in 1961 and 98 in 2008.

Sureños, or southerners, and Norteños, or northerners, are offshoots and loose affiliates of two Latino prison gangs that have been at war since the late 1960s.

Typically, Norteños in northern California are the children or grandchildren of immigrants, while Sureños are newer arrivals. They wear blue and claim the number 13 because “M” – for the prison gang Mexican Mafia – is the 13th letter of the alphabet.

Norteños wear red and claim the number 14 for “N”, standing either for Norteños or la Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia’s rival.