Anti-violence groups join forces to save lives

Before, most social service professionals and organizations worked in isolation, divided by race, class and geography.

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Gisselle Zamago, 7, is recovering after being shot twice while trick-or-treating in Little Village on Halloween last week.

Giselle Zamago, 7, recovers after being shot while trick-or-treating in Little Village on Halloween.

Provided by Rigoberto Zamago

I hate acronyms, those clunky labels beloved by policy wonks.

But Chicago’s anti-violence alphabet soup is packing a punch.

CP4P, READI and CRED are collaborating across neighborhoods, race, class and their own silos to interrupt the city’s pernicious violence, offer alternatives to street life and heal.

CP4P (Communities Partnering for Peace), facilitated by Metropolitan Family Services, is a partnership of eight community groups that focuses on hyper-local outreach and restorative justice.

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READI Chicago, part of the Heartland Alliance, runs a singular job readiness program in five neighborhoods.Young people receive 18 months of paid transitional employment and services like cognitive behavioral therapy and skills-building, then another six months of follow-up and coaching support that can lead to permanent jobs.

Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) funds anti-violence efforts and helps young people escape the short-term gain of street life to a long-term economic opportunity.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, they deploy coordinated and comprehensive programs through intervention, outreach and trauma-informed therapy that targets high-risk young people on the city’s South and West sides.

A group of dedicated and passionate advocates broke it down at a recent meeting at UCAN, a participating agency in North Lawndale.

On Halloween, 7-year-old Giselle Zamago was shot in Little Village while trick-or-treating in her Minnie Mouse costume. The alleged teenage shooter was reportedly aiming at a rival gang member.

Matt DeMateo, executive director of New Life Centers of Chicagoland, got a call.His CP4P outreach workers were eating at a nearby restaurant “when they hear the sound of shots ring out,” he recalled.They find Giselle “shot, on the ground.”

Then DeMateo got a call from the mayor’s office. Then, a captain in the 10th Police District called.

DeMateo headed to the hospital where Giselle was taken to help comfort her family. A video of the shooting hit the Internet, which helped identify the perpetrators.

“So, we are in a complex spot as an outreach worker,” DeMateo explains, “where you know victims, you know shooters and how all those systems collide.”

Thankfully, Giselle survived.

The coordination helps stop the next shooting. And the next.

The collaboration reaches people on both sides of the trigger, mediates future conflicts and helps communities heal.

In 2016, anti-violence advocates came together, as shootings and murders spiraled out of control.Their efforts are funded by a three-year, $75 million grant from PSPC, Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

That has led to “unprecedented unity” in Chicago’s anti-violence community, DeMateo said.

Before, most social service professionals and organizations worked in isolation, divided by race, class and geography.

Now they are breaking down walls, sharing information, resources and wisdom.Violence intervention workers are building fruitful relationships with police officials, street cops and top city officials.

“The narrative is changing, from ‘us and them’ to ‘just us,’”DeMateo said.

The Metropolitan Peace Academy provides professional training for outreach workers. “Light in the Night” sponsors recreational activities, like “pop-up barbecues,” to build trust.

An analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab shows that from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2019, shootings declined by 39 percent; homicides dropped by 38 percent across the nine CP4P neighborhoods.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has budgeted $11.5 million for the city’s 2020 anti-violence efforts.

Advocates are calling for $50 million.There’s no price tag on saving and healing lives.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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