Quiwana Bell, COO of Westside Health Authority, speaks at the announcement of the $75 million Gun Violence and Prevention Grants.

AUSTIN — West and South side groups are in line for millions in funding as county officials funnel $75 million into violence prevention services in neighborhoods hit hardest by gun violence.

The Gun Violence and Prevention grants were designed by the county’s Justice Advisory Council as an answer to the increase in shootings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Though violent crime had been falling since 2016 in Chicago, the pandemic ushered in a wave of instability that made 2021 the deadliest year in decades, police data shows.

“Challenges that were already present due to racism and historic disinvestment were amplified. There was increased economic hardship. Schools were closed. Services and networks for social support that people relied on were disrupted,” said county board President Toni Preckwinkle.

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The grants represent an investment into 68 community groups with a track record of preventing gun crime using strategies including street outreach and intervention, case management, victims services and workforce development. The funding, supported by the federal American Rescue Plan, is aimed at supporting initiatives that “address the root causes of violence and crime in our communities,” Preckwinkle said.

Thirty-seven of the grants went to West and South side organizations.

“Those working at the community level are best poised to offer the support our at-risk neighbors need to avoid becoming involved in gun violence,” Preckwinkle said. “Violence prevention is about facilitating healing, building peace and providing support and resources for our historically underinvested communities.”

Grant recipients include youth organizations Firehouse Community Arts Center in Lawndale and Firebird Community Arts in East Garfield Park, workforce programs like Revolution Workshop in East Garfield Park and Manufacturing Renaissance in Logan Square and community development groups like Westside Health Authority in Austin.

The grants will be spread out over three years, with the first installment sent to the organizations in September, according to the county officials.

Hamlin Avenue looking north in Garfield Park on Nov. 22, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The funding will allow organizations already embedded in the most vulnerable communities to scale up programs that are connecting with people most at-risk for gun violence, said Avik Das, executive director of the Justice Advisory Council. The county’s partnership will “ensure organizations have the capacity to build successful and innovative programs and reach more residents,” Das said.

The initiative also brings together the grantees to collaborate and share strategies for reducing gun violence so groups can support each other as they expand their reach, said county Commissioner Dennis Deer.

“No longer will we do what we’ve always done, where organizations work in silos and don’t talk to each other about what they’re doing to get rid of violence,” Deer said.

Westside Health Authority will use just more than $1.4 million to grow its Good Neighbor Campaign, which has already been successful in developing a powerful network of engaged residents dedicated to building a peaceful and thriving Austin, said Chief Operating Officer Quiwana Bell.

“A lot of people want to do something, but they just don’t know what to do, and they need to be connected to a hub of some sort,” Bell said. “We connect with like-minded residents who have the desire to change their community. And we try to give them a platform they can immediately effect, and sometimes that’s their own block because that’s an environment you have some direct control over.”

The Good Neighbor Campaign regularly hosts community meetings, pop-up events, sports games and activities for youth to bring people together. Participants also canvass the neighborhood to get more people involved, share valuable resources and survey residents on what they feel the community needs in order to stop the violence.

“We believe community people are the authority on what needs to happen in their community,” Bell said.

With the additional funding, Westside Health Authority will be able to expand its network to support more local leaders in connecting with neighbors. The organization will be able to empower those leaders with more training and resources they can offer to support people living on their blocks, especially those who are most vulnerable, including young people, single moms and formerly incarcerated people, Bell said.

“We are able to affect people on their blocks. We are able to pay stipends to citizen leaders who engage with residents in their church or young people on their blocks … and point them to resources in their community because a lot of times, resources may exist but people don’t know where they are,” Bell said.

Sana Sayed, director of strategic initiatives at Inner-City Muslim Action Network, speaks at the grand opening ceremony for the Go Green Community Fresh Market in Englewood on March 8, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Some groups received funding via coalitions they formed. Some of the other grant recipients:

  • Metropolitan Family Services (involves 15 organizations, including Enlace, New Life Centers, SWOP and UCAN): $15 million.
  • BUILD Inc. (five groups, including MAAFA Redemption Project): $15 million.
  • Roseland Ceasefire Project: $4.1 million.
  • St. Anthony Hospital: $3 million.
  • Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (includes three groups): $2.2 million.
  • Teamwork Englewood: $1.48 million.
  • Inner-City Muslim Action Network: $1.5 million.

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