Firsthand Gun Violence: Prevention Programs Get Boost in Funding

This story is part of WTTW’s Firsthand initiative exploring gun violence in Chicago.

Chicago’s violence prevention programs are getting a boost in funding. 

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Chicago’s 2021 budget, which was passed last week by the City Council, includes $36 million for violence prevention programs. That’s nearly $25 million more than the 2020 budget, which was a significant increase compared to years prior. However, some advocates say it’s still not enough to address violence in Chicago.

As of Nov. 22, shootings this year have increased by 53% compared to the same time period in 2019, according to Chicago Police Department data. Chicago is seeing homicide numbers similar to those in 2016, the most violent year in the city since 1998

Violence prevention programs can include a range of services, from after-school programs and support services to engaging with community members who are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of gun violence. The services work in tandem, connecting those who are most vulnerable to violence with necessary resources. 

“What we do first and foremost is build relationships, build rapport with the men and women in these communities,” said Eddie Bocanegra, senior director of Heartland Alliance’s READI Chicago program. “We hire people from the communities, we train, develop them. And then we try to saturate specific communities where there’s highly concentrated violence, asking them to step away from something, but at the same time asking them to step into something whether its employment, CBT, whether it’s housing.”

Outreach workers develop relationships with community members and help get them where they want to be, said Chris Patterson, senior director of programs and policy at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

“Everyone has this idea of betterment in themselves, so the outreach professional, their work task on a day-to-day basis is helping to assess, identify and help those participants get to where they want to be in life. Whether that success is jobs, employment opportunities, going back to school, mental health support, substance abuse,” Patterson said. 

This is an important part of violence prevention work, said Vaughn Bryant, executive director of Metropolitan Peace Initiatives and Communities Partnering 4 Peace.

“You can potentially intervene on a particular conflict, but if they’re not engaging in some activity that’s gonna move them away from their current status, then they’re gonna to end up back in a conflict on their block again,” Bryant said.

While the $36 million allocated is a step in the right direction, more is still needed, Bocanegra said. 

“We need more and we need the city to step up,” Bocanegra said. “It’s great that philanthropy has been doing a bulk of the heavy lifting here, but we do need the city. We do need the government to step in to support these initiatives.” 

The ideal amount of funding would be between $50 million and $150 million, Patterson said.

“What we also need to understand is that while we are doing the direct service that supports those who are at risk of either shooting someone or being shot, the money that is allocated now doesn’t make schools better, for instance, and it doesn’t provide employment opportunities, nor does it address direct mental health support that people need,” Patterson said. “What I fear is that we kinda get lost in the idea that if we just throw money at a problem without fixing the structural reason why the problem exists in the first place we’ll find ourselves here often.”

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