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Almost 2 Years Ago, Illinois Declared Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis. How Is That $250M Being Spent? | Chicago News | #schoolsaftey

It’s been almost two years since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order declaring gun violence a public health crisis in Illinois, as part of the state’s Reimagine Public Safety Act. 

The program pushes $250 million in funds to the state’s hardest hit communities. Designed to interrupt and prevent gun violence, it’s a three-year investment that started at the end of 2021.

State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, was the House sponsor of this Reimagine Public Safety Act.  

“We wanted to take a bold, transformative approach,” Slaughter said. “We wanted to look at gun violence as a public health crisis and to look at the root causes of crime and violence … One of the things we want to prioritize with this is our robust services approach … job training, after school programs, mental health services, higher risk intervention services, case management.”

He said the approach will target “at-risk hot areas” not just in Chicago but around the state.

A trailer bill passed as part of the program created the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, which is housed at the Illinois Department of Human Services and is meant to coordinate violence prevention efforts. 

“We wanted to coordinate all of the programs, services, resources and initiatives coming out of the state, and look at how we can collaborate both with state agencies, and also in an intergovernmental way with the city,” Slaughter said.

As of this current fiscal year, the Illinois Department of Human Services has awarded up to $147 million to a variety of providers to continue to expand their violence prevention efforts.

Breakthrough Urban Ministries, which operates out of East Garfield Park, is slated to receive over $700,000 of those funds in the three-year period.

“We’re using it to reduce homicides and shootings in our neighborhood,” said Yolanda Fields, executive director of Breakthrough. “It isn’t just that. It’s providing holistic services and so that means street-level intervention as well as education development … It’s taking people who best know how to serve their community and using proven strategies to do that.”

Fields said those strategies include things like providing safe spaces in the evening hours and street-level intervention. They also include a food pantry and other basic needs.

“A public health approach means we’re interested in the total community and the total human being,” she said.

Field also says her organization is able to provide workforce development for folks reentering the community.

“Whether you are a victim, or someone who is on the periphery in our community and has been marginalized economically, this money allows us to meet some of those needs,” Field said.

Rev. Anthony Williams had been calling on lawmakers to declare violence a public health epidemic after losing his own son to violence.

“With the same feverish process that our government and others took with COVID, we need to take this same energy as it relates to violence,” Williams said. “We’ve got to educate people on what this is. It’s not just about a gun. Put that to the side. There’s enough gun legislation on the books. We’ve got to address it properly, we need mass education, we need workshops, we need to educate the public on what this sickness is, what this disease is.”

Slaughter says that in order to see results, there’s a large research component behind the effort.

“Loyola, UIC, University of Chicago Crime Lab, Northwestern University and Chicago State are all at the table making sure that we do the research and measure the effectiveness of these programs,” Slaughter said.

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