Skip to main content

WBEZ News

To Curb Chicago’s Gun Violence, Foundations To Provide Jobs And Therapy To Shooters

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tried a variety of things to end a gun-violence surge that began almost two years ago.

The city has boosted funding for youth mentoring and summer jobs. It has invested in neighborhood businesses and job training for ex-offenders. The police department is rolling out new technology and planning to add nearly 1,000 additional officers at an expected cost of more than $130 million a year.

But the gun violence is killing about as many people this year as last.

“By any measure the results have not been great,” said former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who returned to Chicago last year. “I just don’t think we can arrest our way out of this.”

One thing the city has not done is design a jobs program for shooters and potential shooters.

Now some charitable foundations are doing just that. They are aiming to put 400 of the highest-risk individuals into jobs and give them training and therapy to turn their lives around. 

“We got to give young men a chance to transition from a life on the streets to a life in the legal economy,” said Duncan, a managing partner of the Emerson Collective, one of the foundations.

‘Game Changer’

The foundations teaming up behind the jobs program also include MacArthur, McCormick, Polk Brothers and several others, organizers said.

The funds are flowing through the Heartland Alliance, a big Chicago-based nonprofit organization managing smaller groups in the program, called READI Chicago, short for the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative.

The program is focusing on three of the city’s 77 community areas. Two are on the West Side, the other on the South. All have a lot of gun crime.

For each area, University of Chicago researchers are using police data to help identify individuals most likely to shoot or get shot.

Heartland spokeswoman Barbara Hoffman said the focus is men in their 20s and 30s — ages that distinguish the work from the city’s mentoring and summer jobs programs, which are geared for a younger age group.

Outreach workers will find the shooters and potential shooters in locations ranging from the Cook County Jail to street corners claimed by violent groups, organizers said. There will be lots of door knocking.

The program is set up to eventually bring in 400 individuals.

“Those people probably drop out multiple times and [the outreach workers] continue going back relentlessly,” Polk Brothers CEO Gillian Darlow said.

The goal for next June is to have all those men in transitional jobs — useful work at $12 to $13 an hour, subsidized by the foundations. “Transitional” means the employment includes training and support.

The men will also get individualized services, including cognitive behavioral therapy to address anything from relationship troubles to anxiety and depression.

“It absolutely could be a game changer,” said Christopher Mallette, executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a project of the New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

Mallette’s project coordinates law-enforcement and social-service agencies to try to steer gang members away from crime. But he said it cannot guarantee those individuals either a transitional job or therapy.

Those two things could go together well, Mallette said.

“Someone could have a job but, if they still see the world the same exact way they saw it when they were standing on the street, they’re going to respond the same way to trauma, they’re going to respond the same way to pressure, and they’re going to respond the same way to stress,” he said.

The foundations are building on a model developed since last year by Chicago CRED, a program Duncan leads for Emerson, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of former Apple Inc. leader Steve Jobs.

Chicago CRED reaches out to young men involved in violence in the Roseland and Pullman neighborhoods. The group provides them jobs, training, and counseling. Duncan said the participants now total about 100.

Scaling Up

For READI Chicago, organizers said the price tag is $17 million for the first year — roughly $40,000 per participant.

Julia Stasch, president of MacArthur, said the foundations will consider the effort a success if “a really high percentage” of the guys stick with the jobs, avoid contact with the criminal justice system, and avoid getting shot.

“All of those things will be tracked,” Stasch said.

The university researchers will compare the individuals getting the jobs and therapy to a control group of individuals who are not receiving those services, organizers said.

“Then we’ll know whether this is money well spent [and] we’ll be able to attract additional — both public and private — resources and make it possible to scale it,” Stasch said.

That means expanding the program so it could actually make a dent in Chicago’s gun violence.

Having that effect will not be cheap, said Chicago Urban League CEO Shari Runner, who is not involved with the program.

“But what’s the alternative?” she asked.

Runner said public officials ought to consider “what it costs to incarcerate somebody [and] the costs of an ex-offender coming back and not being able to contribute to society.”

Those costs range from lost taxes to long-term reliance on entitlement programs, Runner said.

Emanuel has talked up employment as an antidote to the city’s gun violence. It was a theme of a heavily promoted speech last September about the shooting surge.

But the foundations said their jobs program has no funding from the city or any other public source yet. 

Asked what would convince the city to shift funds toward jobs and services targeted at shooters, an Emanuel aide sent a statement linking that idea to “an all-too-simplistic understanding [of] the drivers of violence.”

“We believe thriving neighborhoods are critical to sustained public safety and prosperity,” the statement said. “Chicago is focusing resources across public, private and nonprofit sectors to drive impactful, sustainable neighborhood development and community engagement.”

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him @ChipMitchell1.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X