Johnson announces $10 million expansion of fund for victims of gun violence and their grieving families

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot established the Emergency Supplemental Victims Fund as a pilot in five communities. Her successor, Mayor Brandon Johnson, is using federal stimulus funds to expand the program into 10 additional neighborhoods.

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Mourners gather for a balloon release and vigil for 7-year-old Jai’Mani Amir Rivera on the Near West Side, Chicago, June 19, 2024. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A picture of Jai’Mani Amir Rivera was displayed at a balloon release and vigil for the 7-year-old boy, who was fatally shot on the sidewalk outside his apartment complex on the Near West Side on Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With summer off to a violent start, Mayor Brandon Johnson on Thursday announced a $10 million expansion of a fund created two years ago to provide emergency assistance to the victims of gun violence and their families.

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Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot established the Emergency Supplemental Victims Fund to compensate grief-stricken families at a time when Chicago homicides were topping 700 for the second straight year.

The pilot program started in five Chicago neighborhoods plagued by gang and gun violence — East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Englewood, West Englewood and New City.

Lightfoot lost her reelection bid before she could deliver on her promise to expand the program. Now Johnson is picking up the ball and running with it.

He’s expanding the program to 10 more neighborhoods — as well as to families of homicide victims 24 or younger anywhere in the city —at a cost of $10 million over three years. Federal stimulus funds will cover most of the expansion. The 10 new community areas are Austin, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Greater Grand Crossing, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, Roseland, South Shore and West Pullman. Eligible families must work with a designated community organization in each neighborhood to fill out an online application. Details are on the city website.

Under the plan, families who lose a loved one to gun violence are eligible for $1,500 to help defray funeral or burial costs. Shooting victims from those designated neighborhoods can also get $1,000 grants to cover “basic needs” triggered by a loss or violent incident. That includes medical expenses, mental health or child care, groceries and rent. And those who sustain debilitating injuries, along with their families, can qualify for up to $1,000 in relocation costs.

One caveat: They cannot be “identified by law enforcement as the perpetrators of the crime.”

The grants are administered by a network of “survivor support advocacy groups” bankrolled by the Chicago Department of Public Health. They include Centers for New Horizons, Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago and Universal Family Connections.

“At a time of great loss and trauma, these funds provide much-needed relief and stability for residents and families. By lifting some of the burdens off their shoulders, we can help them on their path and journey to full healing. And ultimately, they can be strengthened by those funds, helping us to prevent repeat incidences of violence,” the mayor told a news conference at UCAN, a community-based victims’ service organization at 3605 W. Fillmore St.

Already, the fund has assisted nearly 400 victims and survivors of gun violence, but “so many more” need city support, Johnson said. Providing those “stabilizing resources” is part of his commitment to “prioritizing communities that have been starved for decades,” he said.

“When a 13-year-old boy is a target, there’s something sick and demented about the mentality of people who are walking through the streets of Chicago. When a 7-year-old is stepping just outside their home and is gunned down, it’s an indication of the failures of previous administrations who have been intentional about leaving our communities behind,” Johnson said.

“These are the same communities whose schools have been closed, public housing has been shuttered. These are the same communities in which gross disinvestment has been the prevailing form of politics in this city for decades. … This crisis did not show up with simply a bullet. This crisis showed up when previous administrations decided to give up on these communities. ... Now we are struggling with the aftermath of the failures of previous administrations who did not recognize the value of our lives. ”

Johnson was asked why it took the broad daylight murder of 7-year-old Jai’Mani Amir Rivera outside the child’s Near West Side apartment building for the mayor to unleash his frustration about the violent start to Chicago’s summer.

Why was he silent after the 72 shootings and eight homicides over Father’s Day weekend?

“My mother used to always say that your actions speak louder than your words. $100 million for violence prevention. Action. A $1.25 billion bond to create economic opportunity and affordable housing for people. Action. Having a … community safety plan where we’re showing up … in some of the most disinvested, violent blocks in Chicago. Action,” the mayor said.

“We invest in people. People deserve more than just words. They deserve support and our love. That’s what you have in this mayor. If you want a mayor who gives you speeches and messages on Monday mornings, we’ve had enough of that. ... Our actions have to be louder than our words.”

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