Violence Prevention Nonprofits Face New Challenge: A Pandemic

Posted May 12, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Safe Streets Baltimore

Photo provided by Craig Jernigan

In cities across the nation, non­prof­its that hire or train com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to inter­vene when gun vio­lence or retal­i­a­tion is like­ly to occur — a pub­lic health mod­el for pre­vent­ing gun vio­lence known as Cure Vio­lence — are hard at work.

Their vol­un­teers and staff — now equipped with face masks, gloves and hand san­i­tiz­er — con­tin­ue to talk with res­i­dents about poten­tial gun violence.

But the orga­ni­za­tions and their mes­sen­gers are also tack­ling anoth­er top­ic: How to stay safe dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. These con­ver­sa­tions cov­er the basics — the impor­tance of hand wash­ing reg­u­lar­ly, stay­ing home and keep­ing a safe dis­tance from oth­ers — and often help con­nect res­i­dents with addi­tion­al support.

Vio­lence pre­ven­tion non­prof­its are trust­ed and embed­ded in their com­mu­ni­ties,” says Amoret­ta Mor­ris, direc­tor of nation­al com­mu­ni­ty strate­gies for the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. As a result, they are posi­tioned to tack­le two major pub­lic health crises unfold­ing in many Amer­i­can cities right now: the epi­dem­ic of gun vio­lence and the unprece­dent­ed emer­gency caused by the coro­n­avirus pandemic.”

This post intro­duces two Casey grantees that are bundling these chal­lenges togeth­er to bring vital infor­ma­tion and relief to com­mu­ni­ties in need.


For sev­er­al weeks, vol­un­teers and staff at CHRIS 180 in Atlanta have been deliv­er­ing food and sup­plies to res­i­dents who are strug­gling to run errands or pay bills. The non­prof­it is also pro­vid­ing finan­cial assis­tance to some res­i­dents, and its crews have shared instruc­tions on request­ing gro­ceries or access­ing health ser­vices — includ­ing men­tal health coun­sel­ing — through the organization.

Dur­ing this same time frame, CHRIS 180 has con­tin­ued sup­port­ing local res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ties impact­ed by gun vio­lence while also imple­ment­ing a Cure Vio­lence mod­el in the city.

It’s a lot to tack­le, but it’s nec­es­sary work,” says Alfred Gar­ner, a pro­gram man­ag­er for CHRIS 180 who works in Atlanta’s Neigh­bor­hood Plan­ning Unit V, which includes six pri­mar­i­ly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods on the city’s south­side. Gun vio­lence is a per­sis­tent prob­lem, and this pan­dem­ic has made many people’s sit­u­a­tions much worse. That’s why we’ve start­ed pro­vid­ing direct assis­tance in response, while con­tin­u­ing our work to inter­rupt vio­lence and sup­port those impact­ed by it.”

Safe Streets Baltimore

Near­ly 600 miles to the north­east, Safe Streets Bal­ti­more — a vio­lence pre­ven­tion ini­tia­tive named after the city it serves — has sim­il­iar­ly expand­ed its focus. Pro­gram staff and vol­un­teers trav­el through the city’s east and west side neigh­bor­hoods, post­ing infor­ma­tion­al fliers and talk­ing with res­i­dents from a safe six-foot dis­tance. Most con­ver­sa­tions cov­er the same two top­ics: Poten­tial gun vio­lence and the coro­n­avirus pandemic.

Like CHRIS 180, Safe Streets is also help­ing res­i­dents with food and oth­er neces­si­ties, both by deliv­er­ing these items to homes and stock­ing them at pick-up loca­tions through­out the city.

Front­line work of this kind is vital — but it’s also stress­ful. Thanks to a Casey Foun­da­tion grant, Safe Streets offers employ­ees access to men­tal health ser­vices, includ­ing one-on-one coun­sel­ing, through Sage Well­ness Group. The orga­ni­za­tion also hosts vir­tu­al meet­ings each month so that staff can dis­cuss work-relat­ed chal­lenges and stres­sors. Men­tal health is very impor­tant, espe­cial­ly right now,” says Dedra Layne, the direc­tor of Safe Streets. These ses­sions pro­vide a space for peo­ple to be vul­ner­a­ble and talk about sup­ports they might need to do their best work.”

A call to invest in vio­lence interrupters

As many cities grap­ple with these extra­or­di­nary twin crises, some groups and lead­ers are call­ing on state and fed­er­al law­mak­ers to rec­og­nize the role of orga­ni­za­tions like CHRIS 180 and Safe Streets Baltimore.

Vio­lence inter­rupters and out­reach work­ers focused on com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers at high­est risk have emerged as a front­line pub­lic health resource in the fight against the twin pub­lic health crises of com­mu­ni­ty vio­lence and COVID-19,” reads a May 1, 2020 let­ter signed by 20 may­ors and sent to fed­er­al law­mak­ers. At a time when resources every­where are strained, it is crit­i­cal that this capac­i­ty be sus­tained and bolstered.”

Giv­en their vital roles, Safe Streets has called on Mary­land’s lead­ers to fund vio­lence inter­ven­tion pro­grams across the state. Vio­lence is still occur­ring, and we need to be vig­i­lant about that, but we can also be effec­tive at address­ing the needs pre­sent­ed by the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic,” says Layne. That’s why it’s impor­tant that we, and oth­er groups that do sim­i­lar work across Mary­land and the nation, get the sup­port need­ed to con­tin­ue these vital efforts at this time.”

Read about com­mu­ni­ty efforts to bring Cure Vio­lence to Atlanta

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