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Violence programs to expand in 4 West Side neighborhoods as business group nears $100 million goal

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Four West Side neighborhoods will see a boost in violence prevention programs targeted at people most at risk from gun violence, as a group of business leaders nears its ambitious goal of raising $100 million in private funding.

The expansion was announced Monday by leaders of nonprofit groups who largely hire workers from the streets to mediate neighborhood conflicts and recruit people at risk into programs that include therapy, education and employment training.

The neighborhoods are Austin, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Little Village. About one of five shootings citywide occur in one of those neighborhoods, according to city crime statistics.

“This strategy is not perfect,” Jalen Arthur, director of strategic initiatives for Chicago CRED, told a room full of anti-violence workers at the Austin headquarters of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

“There are still things we need to tighten,” he said. “But it’s been a blessing from the most high that the results are promising and we’re grateful for the opportunity to empower men and women from the trenches to play a critical role in the peace-making process.”

Anti-violence programs have reached into neighborhoods across the city over the past five years, driven by a massive expansion in funding from philanthropic organizations and government grants for non-policing approaches to combating a surge in violence that began during the COVID -19 pandemic.

Last year, business leaders pledged to raise $100 million to fund a five-year plan to expand the programs on a scale that would lead to a significant drop in shootings.

The initiative, dubbed “Scaling Community Violence Intervention for a Safer Chicago,” or SC2, has nearly reached that goal, according to Bob Boik, vice president for public safety at the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

SC2 is looking to find a research partner to track whether the programs are effective, data that could encourage more public spending, said Boik, who until 2022 led the Chicago Police Department’s reform efforts under a federal consent decree.

“If data indicates there is progress being made, I think that potential is there,” he said. “When the scaling period ends and it appears everything is going in the right direction, the idea is that the public sector would pick up more of the funding.”

Increased funding for such programs was a major initiative by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, which was under fire for skyrocketing crime during the pandemic.

No one from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration or the Chicago Police Department took the stage at Monday’s event.

But West Side alderpersons Emma Mitts (37th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th) did speak, with Mitts thanking anti-violence workers for responding to two mass shootings an hour apart in Humboldt Park and Englewood early Monday.

“I know you were out all night,” Mitts told the audience.

Taliaferro, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said he had not yet seen Johnson’s budget for the upcoming year, but warned that increased spending on anti-violence programs must outlast federal funding that largely expires by 2026.

“Everything is expensive, especially if it’s worth it,” Taliaferro said. “We certainly can’t go without these organizations and the work that they do.”

Research shows that residents driving gun violence in the four neighborhoods are a tiny sliver of the population, according to Kathy Kullick, director of the North Lawndale Collaborative, a coalition of organizations that have coordinated anti-violence efforts in the neighborhood since 2022.

By coordinating closely, Chicago CRED, Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, READI Chicago and North Lawndale Employment Network have more than tripled the number of residents in their programs who are considered most at risk from gun violence.

But they still reach only about 20% of the people who need those programs, Kullick said.

“Any progress we make in the community is making a dent,” she said. “Is 20% something to celebrate? I think we have saved lives, and there is still a lot of work to do and more lives to save.”

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