Violence prevention programs to expand in 4 West Side neighborhoods as businesses near $100M funding goal

The neighborhoods are Austin, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Little Village, where about 20% of shootings occur citywide, according to city crime statistics.

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Rayqwan Alexander, an outreach worker at the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, and another adult paint two children's faces in a sunny, tree-filled park.

Rayqwan Alexander, an outreach worker for the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, talks with kids getting their faces painted at an event in West Garfield Park. The neighborhood will get more anti-violence workers and other support as businesses and philanthropic groups boost government funding.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Four West Side neighborhoods will see a boost in violence prevention programs targeted at people most at risk from gun violence, as a group of business leaders nears its ambitious goal of raising $100 million in private funding.

The expansion was announced Monday by leaders of nonprofit groups who largely hire workers from the streets to mediate neighborhood conflicts and recruit people at risk into programs that include therapy, education and employment training.

The neighborhoods are Austin, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Little Village. About 1 in 5 shootings citywide occur in one of those neighborhoods, according to city crime statistics.

“This strategy is not perfect,” Jalen Arthur, director of strategic initiatives for Chicago CRED, told a roomful of anti-violence workers at the Austin headquarters of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

“There are still things we need to tighten,” he said. “But it’s been a blessing from the most high that the results are promising, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to empower men and women from the trenches to play a critical role in the peacemaking process.”

Jalen Arthur, director of strategic initiatives at Chicago CRED, speaks at a podium while a large group of people stand behind him onstage.

Jalen Arthur, director of strategic initiatives at Chicago CRED, speaks Monday to anti-violence workers and business and government leaders.

Andy Grimm | Sun-Times

Anti-violence programs have reached into neighborhoods across the city over the last five years, driven by a massive expansion in funding from philanthropic organizations and government grants for nonpolicing approaches to combating a surge in violence that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, business leaders pledged to raise $100 million to fund a five-year plan to expand the programs on a scale that’s expected to lead to a significant drop in shootings. The initiative, dubbed “Scaling Community Violence Intervention for a Safer Chicago,” or SC2, has nearly reached that goal, according to Bob Boik, vice president for public safety at the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

SC2 is looking for a research partner to track whether the programs are effective, data that could encourage more public spending, said Boik, who until 2022 led the Chicago Police Department’s reform efforts under a federal consent decree.

“If data indicates there is progress being made, I think that potential is there,” he said. “When the scaling period ends, and it appears everything is going in the right direction, the idea is that the public sector would pick up more of the funding.”

More funding for such programs was a major initiative by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, which was under fire for skyrocketing crime during the pandemic.

No one from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration or the police department took the stage at Monday’s event.

But West Side Alds. Emma Mitts (37th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th) did speak, with Mitts thanking anti-violence workers for responding to two mass shootings that happened an hour apart in Humboldt Park and Englewood early Monday.

“I know you were out all night,” Mitts told the audience.

Taliaferro, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said he had not seen Johnson’s budget for the upcoming year, but warned that increased spending on anti-violence programs must outlast federal funding that largely expires by 2026.

“Everything is expensive, especially if it’s worth it,” Taliaferro said. “We certainly can’t go without these organizations and the work that they do.”

Research shows that residents driving gun violence in the four neighborhoods are a tiny sliver of the population, according to Kathy Cullick, director of the North Lawndale Collaborative, a coalition of organizations that have coordinated anti-violence efforts in the neighborhood since 2022.

By coordinating closely, Chicago CRED, Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, READI Chicago and North Lawndale Employment Network have more than tripled the number of residents in their programs who are considered most at risk from gun violence.

But they still reach only about 20% of the people who need those programs, Cullick said.

“Any progress we make in the community is making a dent,” she said. “Is 20% something to celebrate? I think we have saved lives, and there is still a lot of work to do and more lives to save.”

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