At a recent convening in St. Louis, recipients of $100 million in federal grants described the funds as a long-awaited acknowledgment that street outreach work has value.
In the 15 years since Aim4Peace first launched in Kansas City, the violence prevention program has grown in fits and starts, operating hospital-based and street outreach programs aimed at preventing retaliation and defusing ongoing violence in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Missouri’s largest city.
But it hasn’t been an easy road, said Rashid Junaid, Aim4Peace’s program manager. Speaking to a crowd of anti-violence workers, nonprofit leaders, and officials from the Justice Department gathered at a hotel in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on February 15, Junaid detailed the program’s core struggle: funding.
At its peak in 2014, Aim4Peace employed 18 workers. By 2019, budget cuts left it with just five staffers and forced Aim4Peace to disband its outreach team; only the hospital-based program continued. As the staff dwindled, homicides in its operating area jumped from five, in 2014, to 25 in 2019. In 2021, the city allocated just $440,000 to Aim4Peace. The state-controlled city police received more than $230 million.
The funding problem isn’t unique to Aim4Peace — community-based violence intervention programs have long struggled to get resources. But at the gathering in St. Louis, Junaid and other CVI program leaders celebrated a change in the tide.
Last year, Aim4Peace received a $2 million grant from the DOJ’s Community-Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative. Junaid’s group is one of more than 50 community-based violence prevention programs, city agencies, and larger nonprofits that received $100 million in grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance as part of the initiative. Though violence prevention programs have long qualified for other federal grants, the new initiative is the first to solely focus on CVI programs.
“What we see is a movement at a time when our country is finally acknowledging that your work matters, you matter, what you do matters,” said Eddie Bocanegra, a senior adviser for CVI at the Office of Justice Programs, who worked for more than 15 years in violence prevention in Chicago.
Aside from funding specific programs, the DOJ grants are part of the Biden administration’s broader goal of building out infrastructure to support CVI, evaluating program effectiveness, training workers and managers on best practices, and creating long-term stability to institutionalize the programs as permanent fixtures of the public safety system.
The convening in St. Louis, the first of its kind, was emblematic of that federal investment. There were workshops on supporting on-the-ground violence intervention workers and building community partnerships, panels on what works in community violence intervention, and talks on how to implement programs in rural areas and tribal communities. Leaders from the highest levels of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, spoke to more than 400 attendees.
Read the whole article from The Trace.