Historic funding could transform gun violence prevention efforts. But can smaller groups take it over? | American crime

FFor years, local gun violence prevention programs have struggled to secure long-term funding. The people who care for students on and off US school campuses, sit at the bedside of gunshot wound survivors and hug the families of homicide victims, are rarely paid with dedicated public money. Instead, many groups survive on unpaid hours, donations, and competitive one-time grants. But since 2021, a historic amount of government funding has been made available across the United States, which may turn the tide.

The money comes as U.S. cities urgently need response and healing resources after a nearly two-year rise in homicides and shootings. Yet with this potential boon also comes confusion, especially for smaller programs whose staff lack the bandwidth to run tedious, competitive applications unattended.

“It’s been a headache, but we’re learning,” said Dante Gaines, co-founder of 1 Hundred Years Enterprises in Richmond, Calif., of the writing and grant application processes. “It’s very tedious, especially when you have three brothers who don’t really know what we’re doing.” Gaines and his partners, Lejon Reese and Patrick Scott, met while serving decades-long sentences at Folsom State Prison and founded the organization in 2018. Since then, they have started speaking in a local elementary school, helping other formerly incarcerated people find their position and build relationships with the young men most at risk of being on either side of a gun. The trio quit day jobs to take up community work and operate primarily on donations from family and local residents as well as a contract with the County Boys and Girls Club, a national community development organization. youth.

Homicides in the United States increased by 30% in 2020. Photography: Bryan Dozier/REX/Shutterstock

They’ve seen municipal and nonprofit grant applications turned down in the past, but they’re still applying. Scott says a steady infusion of funding would give co-founders more time to innovate and expand their reach. “We’re so worried about how to get funding that it’s preventing us from doing what we do very well,” he said. “A few years of funding gives us enough room to be creative.”

Community organizations like Reese’s, Gaines’ and Scott’s have long called for long-term funding. These groups reach the majority of black and Latino residents who bear the brunt of gun violence in the United States, using art and yoga to help people heal from trauma, and taking young people on trips out of state. The work requires money for supplies and staff, but many groups have for years paid for it through grants and contracts, volunteer work and donations.

Still, money has been tight due to bureaucracy related to government grant applications and oversight, organizers said. If someone gets a government contract or some other type of public money, it’s usually only allocated for a few months or a year, which isn’t enough to develop the relationship needed to get someone out of the cycle. violence. Donations and philanthropic funds have covered the gaps, but violence prevention advocates say it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that grassroots healing and response groups can easily access funds public.

“Philanthropy dollars can fill a void, but those government dollars can sustain organizations for the long term. This direct investment is critical,” said Michael-Sean Spence, Director of Community Safety Initiatives for Everytown for Gun Safety.

The organization’s appeals found a more receptive audience, however, as homicides began to climb across the United States, coinciding with demands for money to be diverted from police and towards holistic violence prevention. The money, activists and interventionists hoped, would go to local groups whose staff were entrenched in the streets and had a proven track record of turning people away from the violence and helping families and individuals heal.

In 2021, after homicides jumped 30% from the previous year, the Biden administration ordered counties to use U.S. bailout funds for violence prevention work and put in place restrictions. million dollars available through health and social services, education and housing. In California, the state’s Violence Prevention and Intervention Grant Program (CalVIP) budget has been increased by $200 million and is available to more cities and programs than ever before.

“It took the Covid-19 pandemic to exacerbate the already debilitating, but forgotten, pandemic of gun violence,” said Julius Thibodeaux, co-director of Movement for Life in Sacramento. The group was once affiliated with Advance Peace, an organization that is now a national violence prevention model. Thibodeaux says he and his staff have begun to see more young people involved in gunplay and points to the loss of school and extracurricular activities that gave them refuge.

“Money is important because we can get them on the right track, but you need long-term support resources to make sure nothing derails them,” he continued.

However, the newly available funds are of no use if the barrier to entry is too high for small groups to overcome. This is where national organizations hope to be able to leave their mark. Spence, of Everytown, said his group helps local groups take advantage of the historic amount of money available at the local, state and federal levels.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, left, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed with Sheila Burton and Mattie Scott of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, June 2021.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, left, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed with Sheila Burton and Mattie Scott of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, June 2021. Photograph: Karl Mondon/AP

“It takes time for this change to happen and community programs are not waiting for governments to determine this funding – they are meeting the needs today,” he continued.

“There’s a learning curve in the field to find the information,” said Greg Jackson, executive director of the Community Justice Action Fund, a national violence prevention group. “Before these executive actions, we had $5-10 million and now we have billions for people to compete for.”

For programs like 1 Hundred Year Enterprises, the support Jackson and Spence refer to couldn’t come soon enough. The founders plan to begin working with young people in juvenile detention, most recently partnering with Richmond officials, to organize a series of meetings between black men who once contributed to the city’s gun violence. They plan to start taking students on field trips that they hope will broaden their horizons.

“It takes a lot of determination and resolve to run and fund a program,” said Lejon Reese. “We’ve lost sleep and sacrificed family time, but we have to keep the boots on the ground because we’re trying to deter young people from a path that leads to death or prison.”

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