Children play basketball in 2019 during a Light in the Night event at Columbus Park in Austin. The event was hosted by Communities Partnering for Peace, one of the organizations whose effectiveness was scrutinized by West Side aldermen during a virtual hearing on Oct. 15. | File

During a virtual hearing convened by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, on Oct. 15, several aldermen expressed frustration with what they saw as the lack of communication and collaboration from the organizations that receive city funding to combat violence.

There are 11 organizations that receive funding to do violence prevention on the West and South sides. Those organizations include Austin-based Institute for Non-Violence Chicago, East Garfield Park-based Breakthrough Ministries and North Lawndale-based UCAN.

In an earlier interview, Taliaferro explained that he had concerns that the money the city was putting into the programs wasn’t doing much good and expressed concerns that aldermen have no communication with those groups.

During the hearing, the organizations defended their records, arguing that they were slowly but surely driving down violence until the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything. They argued that work takes time and consistent city investment.

In 2018, the Loop-based Metropolitan Family Services launched the Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) collaboration to reduce violence by providing support for residents ages 18 to 40 who were likely to be affected by violence, whether as victims or perpetrators.

On April 10, the collaboration received $6 million from the city, so that it could work with 11 organizations that were already doing similar violence prevention work, providing them with additional funding and training. As part of that, the Institute for Nonviolence and Breakthrough each received $500,000 while UCAN received $400,000.

The organizations that make up the expanded CP4P used street teams made up of long-time community residents to do the outreach, used case managers to help connect residents at risk of violence to resources, paid them to attend job training sessions and/or get their GEDs, and provided mental health support. All outreach workers and case managers are trained at Metropolitan Family Services’ Metropolitan Peace Academy.

Vaughn Bryant, head of CP4P, explained that they wanted to professionalize the outreach, ensuring that they not only get consistent training, but a decent salary and health benefits.

At the start of the hearing, Taliaferro said that, while he believed that the organizations did good work, he wanted to have accountability to make sure the city funds were well-spent.

“The city spends millions on violence prevention and the numbers continue to increase,” he said. “I know many of you are working tirelessly in our wards and you’ve done a great job. But we do believe that it’s important for us to discuss the work you’re doing in our wards. There are organizations that are working tirelessly on our streets and have not received [city] funding.”

Andrew Papachristos, director of the Northwestern University’s Neighborhood and Network Initiative, which has been studying CP4P’s effectiveness, said that, during the first 30 months CP4P has been operating, the incidents of violence involving residents the program worked with dropped by 13.3 percent.

His best estimate was that around 200 shootings were prevented in Chicago. Although the numbers since the pandemic struck were still preliminary, the data collected so far shows that numbers have worsened, which Papachristos attributed to the fact that safe spaces for young people have closed due to infection risks.

Audry Phillips, the executive director of CP4P partner TARGET Area Development Corporation, cited the fact that more violent incidents have been taking place indoors, which hinders the outreach teams.

Although Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) both said they have good relationships with organizations in their wards, several South and West Side aldermen, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) complained about the lack of communications.

“I think your organizations would have much better success if they [communicated],” Talaiferro said. “I don’t think there’s anyone who knows the groundwork better than the aldermen and the police officers who work in these communities.”

Several aldermen also argued that the organizations didn’t work with local community groups and local churches. Phillips and Bryant said that it wasn’t the case, but both acknowledged they could be doing better in that regard.

Ervin pressed the organizations on what they would need to do their jobs better. Bryant said that more funding would help.

“[In] Austin, West Garfield Park — we need to be in every corner of the community, as opposed to small pockets,” he said.

Bryant also said they should be doing more to encourage people to take advantage of services that are already there and that more funding should go to support South and West side entrepreneurs.

“A lot of people don’t want to work for somebody else and do a 9-to-5,” he said.

Teny Gross, the director of Institute for Nonviolence, argued that addressing mental health issues should go before everything else.

“We feel like we’re part of the solution, but we feel like the trauma is very deep,” he said. “[Organizations like ours] often try very quickly to get people in the jobs, because we feel if they have employment, that starts solving the immediate needs, but they’re often not ready,”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...