SOUTH SHORE — Activist Will Calloway spent months securing state funding for a violence prevention program in South Shore — but now it’s taking so long to access the money, he’s worried it will come too late for the group to effectively do anything with it.
The Passports for Peace violence prevention program, announced in May, will offer out-of-town trips, job training, mentorship and social media monitoring to people at risk of being victimized by or perpetrating gun violence.
Christianaire, Calloway’s faith-based nonprofit, will lead the program. Passports for Peace will focus its efforts in South Shore, particularly among several neighborhood factions in conflict with each other, Calloway said.
The state set aside $450,000 for Christianaire to run Passports for Peace in the 2023 fiscal year, which started in July. Christianaire signed a grant contract in October with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which requires the nonprofit to submit its expenses for reimbursement every three months.
But that agreement requires the grassroots organization to front money it doesn’t have, so Christianaire requested an advance to cover Passports for Peace’s startup costs and two months of operating costs, Calloway said.
The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority “is in the process of evaluating this request,” spokesperson Cristin Evans said. Agency staffers are working to make sure the requested startup and operating costs are eligible for grant funding, and the state may request more documentation from Christianaire before approving the request, she said.
After months of back-and-forth to secure the grant contract, it’s now stuck in another bureaucratic holding pattern trying to secure the advance, Calloway said.
As the process continues, two South Shore residents committed to the program have been killed, four others have been shot and another has been charged with murder — all on or near 71st Street between Jeffery Boulevard and South Shore Drive, Calloway said.
The remaining dozen or so residents who pledged to participate are “losing trust” that Passports for Peace will get off the ground and peace can be achieved in South Shore, Calloway said.
There’s also a ticking clock to spend the grant funds, as any money remaining June 30 will no longer be available to the program, state officials said.
“At this point, I’m so frustrated and have no faith in this state agency,” Calloway said.
Christianaire could get Passports for Peace up and running within two weeks once the advance request is approved, Calloway said.
“Because of the ongoing gang war in South Shore that has claimed the lives of many people — not just on 71st Street, but which has ripple effects all through the South Shore neighborhood — it’s imperative that we set up quickly,” Calloway said.
Rep. Curtis Tarver, who represents the area, shares Calloway’s frustration with the process, as “funds aren’t hitting our communities as quickly as we want them to,” he said.
At the same time, a thorough vetting process is needed when spending state funds, Tarver said.
Tarver and Rep. Kam Buckner worked to secure the state grant for Passports for Peace, and they appeared alongside Calloway at a May news conference announcing the program. The legislators lent their support given Calloway’s work to counter police violence and community violence, they said.
But after Calloway looped Tarver into contract discussions in September, the representative distanced himself from the conversation.
“There is a process” to vetting grant funding, Tarver wrote to Calloway in an email obtained by Block Club. “It seems to be being followed, and I do not want any suggestion otherwise by my email being included.”
“I share frustration in how long it often takes to get from an appropriation in the budget to the funds going to organizations,” Tarver told Block Club Friday. “But I can’t as a legislator influence or alter that process, because it’s an executive branch process.”
Tarver’s support of the violence prevention program doesn’t mean the state has to “speed up the process, or do anything outside of what the normal process is,” he said. “I want to let the process play itself out.”
It’s a “worthwhile conversation” to consider bringing legislators and state agencies together and exploring how to get money to community groups more quickly, Tarver said.
“Maybe there is a legislative solution, but I think it should be looked at in tandem with the executive branch,” he said. “The last thing we need to do as legislators is say, ‘Speed up this process,’ without the institutional knowledge that these specific agencies have.”
The status quo has proven to be a barrier to effective violence prevention by grassroots organizations, and state officials must work quickly to address the problem, Calloway said.
“It seems that the agency has no sense of urgency about what’s going on in the South Shore community and communities like ours,” Calloway said.