Antiviolence workers at the Garfield Park Golden Dome. Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club

GARFIELD PARK — Shootings have dropped in West Side neighborhoods this year, showing prevention and intervention programs are working, advocates said.

Shootings are down more than 15 percent citywide compared to this time last year, according to an analysis by street outreach organization Chicago CRED. West Side neighborhoods have seen even more dramatic improvements: Austin has had a 38 percent decrease in shootings compared to last year, and shootings in West Garfield Park have dropped by almost one-third.

The progress is even more promising in North Lawndale, showing a nearly 57 percent drop in shootings, according to CRED data.

The public safety improvements follow increases in state, federal and local funding for community-driven anti-violence strategies, including Gov. JB Pritzker committing $50 million this year to support violence intervention.

West Side anti-violence workers. Credit: Pascal Sabino/Block Club Chicago

Outreach strategies work by building long-term relationships with the people most likely to commit or be victims of violence, said Marshall Hatch Sr., pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. Workers offer support and resources to steer those individuals toward a better path, Hatch said.

Street outreach workers, many of whom were once trapped in a cycle of violence themselves, are living proof of the potential that can be unleashed from within troubled young people with the right guidance and opportunity, Hatch said.

“Those of us who have done this work know the gems and genius that we find standing on the street corners,” Hatch said at a news conference Wednesday at the Garfield Park Gold Dome Fieldhouse. “We are determined to invest our young people, our greatest resource, who are not the problem but they are the solution.”

Outreach programs Communities Partnering 4 Peace, CRED, UCAN and Flatlining Violence Inspires Peace work because they address some of the circumstances that make people vulnerable to violence, said Jorge Matos, senior director of READI Chicago, an initiative of Heartland Alliance.

READI participants are 45 times more likely to be shot than the average Chicagoan, according to the organization’s data. Nearly all have previously been arrested, more than half have been incarcerated and at least 60 percent are housing insecure, all of which make them more likely to be impacted by violence, Matos said.

“We combine what we know works — outreach, cognitive behavioral [therapy] and transitional employment — to help people create a viable path and opportunities for a different future,” Matos said.

When highly vulnerable individuals enter the READI program, their rate of being shot drops 90 percent, according to the organization’s data. The arrest rate for participants is also 63 percent lower than of others with similar backgrounds who are not served by READI, data shows.

The program’s behavioral health services “helps people slow down their thinking and respond differently to risky situations,” Matos said.

“Not only do we help them heal and reframe their thinking, we also give them a chance to earn income and support themselves and their families, pursue skills training with real economic opportunities,” he said.

In North Lawndale, neighborhood groups joined forces to connect with more than 3,600 people and mediate more than 550 conflicts, organizers said. UCAN also hosted more than 50 pop-up events at hot spots to make the streets safer, said Frank Perez, director of violence intervention and prevention services.

Jalon Arthur, director of strategic initiatives for FLIP, at the Garfield Park Gold Dome where anti-violence workers announced significant decreases in street violence. Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club

The dip in violence in North Lawndale is credited to the collaborations between organizations like Centers for New Horizons and the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Perez said.

“We have to stop living in silos. We have to continue forming collaborations,” Perez said. “We cannot stop the violence on our own.”

The Flatlining Violence Inspires Peace program places outreach workers in neighborhood hot spots to organize events promoting peace. Research from Northwestern University’s Northwestern Neighborhood and Network Initiative shows shootings rarely happen when outreach workers are present. More than 80 percent of the hot spots targeted by Flatlining Violence Inspires Peace saw zero shootings while outreach workers were on duty, the research showed. 

Those safety improvements at hot spots are a result of the 47 non-aggression agreements negotiated by the program’s workers and more than 600 individual interventions, said Jalon Arthur, the program’s director of strategic initiatives.

“It’s about empowering men and women who are from those communities, from those blocks, to maintain peace across hot spots,” Arthur said.

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