The city of Chicago is giving $7.5 million to anti-violence organizations, with the bulk of the money going to the non-profit Metropolitan Family Services to organize and support street outreach work in the city’s most violent neighborhoods.
The multi-million dollar award is the first grant from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Office of Violence Reduction, which Lightfoot has touted as an essential part of the solution to the city’s gun violence problem.
Norman Kerr, director of the newly created office, said it was “extremely exciting” for the city to invest millions in street outreach, a tactic in which workers go into high-crime areas and try to connect directly with the people at the center of Chicago's gun violence.
“This is something that's never been done out of the mayor's office before. And I've been in this field for 25 years, and I've never seen this type of attention and commitment to street outreach in Chicago before,” he said. ”Over the years, we've had, you know, different programs pop up and stick around for a few years, but never the infrastructure and the foundation … to collaborate and convene this on a citywide basis.”
Metropolitan Family Services is getting $6 million to organize a system of anti-violence groups, train outreach workers and provide other services as needed to the smaller groups. The organization will also be in charge of doling out money, between $150,000 and $400,000 per organization, to the community-based groups doing violence prevention work.
Kerr said Metropolitan Family Services would be working to “professionalize” street outreach work.
“We want this work to be considered a real profession. This is not just, you know, adults playing sports with kids. This is really about changing behavior, understanding where people are coming from, coming from a trauma-informed lens and being able to effectively work with people where they are and help them get to where they want to go,” Kerr said.
Vaughn Bryant, with Metropolitan Family Services said he expects 80% to 85% of the grant money to go to the smaller partner organizations so that they can hire and retain outreach workers and other support staff.
Bryant called the $6 million grant “extremely important” to anti-violence efforts in Chicago. He said until now, the work of Metropolitan Family Services and its partner groups has been completely funded by private donations.
“Whenever you're trying to do something new and innovative … and it works, then you want the public sector to support that,” Bryant said. “Having, you know, this money come to us provides a level of stability. So at the organizational level, they don't have to worry about where their next check is coming from in order to support the work for the next three years.”
Kerr said the city opted to work with an umbrella organization, rather than divvying up the money between the community-based groups because most smaller anti-violence organizations “don't have the infrastructure to manage these types of funds.”
The city is also splitting $1.5 million between seven organizations that help victims of violent crime.
“The organizations that are awarded victim services [grants] will work in tandem with street outreach organizations to provide services for victims in those communities,” Kerr said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid.