Back in June, we announced an open call for Violence Response Initiative (VRI) projects.  To qualify for funding, projects needed to include trauma-informed and community-level responses to violence within 72 hours of a shooting or stabbing, as well as an element of preventative work.  We received many innovative proposals and funded three of the most promising approaches in August.

We awarded Cure Violence (the umbrella organization of Ceasefire Illinois) and the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) a grant for their proposed partnership in the two most violent police beats of South Shore, starting in August.  When our team visited their offices at the beginning of October, the team was ecstatic to report that their beats had experienced no shootings over the previous two months – and no homicides over three.

Chico - South Shore

Chico Tillman, Project Manager at Ceasefire/UIC

How did they do it?  For starters, their model combines the expertise of Cure Violence’s on-the-ground violence interrupter team with the clinical expertise of psychiatrists, doctors, and researchers from UIC’s psychiatry and public health schools. One of the most critical parts of the project was that the UIC team trained violence interrupters on trauma-informed approaches.  At Cure Violence, violence interrupters are typically community members who have a knowledge and relationships with those most at-risk of shooting or getting shot, and they use these close relationships to deter violence. Trauma-informed approaches were new to almost all of them.

The project model also includes preventative work, such as intensive case management and community peace summits.  Cure Violence already used crucial screening factors to zero in on the young men and women most in need of support and guidance: street gang or clique involvement, a key role and/or been involved in a violent event, prior criminal history, or victim of a shooting in the last 60 days are part of what qualifies a participant for case management.  Incorporating trauma understandings into their case management and at community-wide events deepened the effect of their work.

trauma handouts - UIC

Visuals provide information and serve as conversation starters at events and the Cure Violence office.

“The trauma piece has improved our ability to build relationships,” says Rue, a Cure Violence worker in South Shore.  “Now, we open conversations with questions like, ‘How are you feeling?’ instead of just asking what happened. The community feels like we are here to support to them. I already see it making a difference – it’s increased our ability to save lives.”

Participants admitted that the deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques seemed a little strange at first, but staff say everyone is becoming more comfortable and confident in the approaches.

“We use the mindfulness exercises to calm someone down when they’re talking about shooting.  We tell them to close their eyes and imagine a safe place,” says another worker. “Most of all, when we talk to them about trauma, we talk about how all this violence, it isn’t normal.  Their anger and emotions are related to things they’ve went through – things that aren’t normal.”

peace march south shore

Members of the Cure Violence South Shore at a Peace March in late July. Their community presence is a crucial component of the VRI project.

Therapy has always been proven to make a difference to traumatized individuals, but it’s difficult to get people to mental health facilities.  Stigma, transportation, work, life – all play a factor in holding people back from visiting doctors. But UIC and Cure Violence have found a way to get aspects of therapy to the people who need it the most: by coming to where they are, where they live, and where they are hurting – and by using people that they trust.

Get IN Chicago is proud to fund such a promising project making real strides against community violence.  As a pilot, the project is currently set to continue through the end of October, but like all Get IN Chicago projects, there is the possibility of renewing and expanding it.

“Everyone likes peace and tranquility,” one program participant offered. “I just want to live somewhere I can walk down the street without all of these worries.  This is a good neighborhood – we just need more resources.”