Philadelphia CeaseFire, a violence reduction program run through the School of Medicine’s Center for Bioethics, Urban Health, and Policy, will receive a $1.5 million federal grant that will allow it to continue fighting gun violence in Philadelphia.
CeaseFire is modeled after an initiative that started in Chicago and has spread to more than 15 cities and five countries around the world.
“The program itself is a public health violence intervention program that was actually started in Chicago about 12 years ago,” Philadelphia CeaseFire program director Marla Davis Bellamy said. “It was founded by an epidemiologist in Chicago who thought that he could utilize his public health approach to stop the spread of disease, of HIV/AIDS in Africa, to stop the spread of violence in Chicago.”
Treating violence as a disease to be eradicated, the program uses outreach workers to target “carriers,” or young people engaged in high-risk activity that leads to gun violence, Bellamy said.
“What you’re trying to do is identify those people who are engaged in all this high-risk activity so if in fact you are able to infiltrate them or able to treat them or provide some type of intervention, they’ll turn their lives around,” Bellamy said. “[This program] was not a law enforcement kind of approach, it was community-based, and given that it really kind of centered on the involvement and engagement of community.”
Outreach workers spend two to three hours a day canvassing neighborhoods and speaking with community members to identify members of the target population, which consists of people ages 18 to 25.
The workers are expected to maintain a caseload of 15 clients and help create a risk-reduction plan by compiling information about the clients’ education and work history and their goals and ambitions.
The outreach workers, who Bellamy said act as mentors or role models for their clients, typically have backgrounds and personal histories that allow them to connect to the target population and gain credibility in the community.
“These are individuals who have kind of made mistakes in their lives, kind of been there done that, and now recognize the mistakes that they’ve made and really committed to trying to help some people not make mistakes,” Bellamy said. “All too often, we talk to young people who have not had the same kind of parenting, mentoring growing up and often times these outreach workers really kind of serve in that capacity for them.”
Case managers are required to visit their clients at home six times per month, as well as speak with them on the phone three times per week.
“One of the clients in ‘The Interrupters,’ in the documentary [about Chicago CeaseFire], he kind of talks about his outreach worker being kind of like a gnat, somebody who’s constantly in your ear,” Bellamy said. “So that’s the whole point, to constantly stay in their ears about turning their lives around, about doing something differently, kind of leaving that whole life of crime behind them.”
The program operates in the 22nd Police District, where Bellamy said homicide and gun violence rates have historically been some of the highest in the city. CeaseFire concentrates its efforts in Police Service Area 2, which spans from Lehigh Avenue to Montgomery Avenue, and from 22nd Street to 33rd Street as well as parts of northern Fairmount Park to the Schuylkill. Main Campus and the surrounding neighborhood are located directly east of the area in PSA 1.
Temple students are able to participate in the program as part of their studies. This summer, Bellamy said that criminal justice majors worked with clients directly to help them develop their résumés and gain employment.
Ida Goldkorn is a second-year Ph.D. student in the criminal justice department who works with CeaseFire to evaluate program impact and interpret violence data. Goldkorn said the target area’s proximity to Temple gives the program a greater sense of reality and immediacy.
“We live on campus and we kind of have our own world and we hear about these shootings that are happening off campus and a lot of people just avoid the area completely because it’s just so dangerous but it’s right there,” Goldkorn said. “That’s part of what made the collaboration with Temple a natural thing because it’s our backyard, it’s where we go every day, it’s very real to us. It makes sense that Temple was involved from the start given the high level of violence in the 22nd [Police District].”
Philadelphia CeaseFire was initially funded by a $250,000 grant from the state that allowed it to establish the program and operate for two years. The new grant will come from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of the Department of Justice.
Bellamy said that collaboration with another community-based violence prevention group is what allowed the program to win the grant. The program became fully operational in 2010.
“This particular grant was limited or restricted to cities only, so given those requirements, we reached out to PhillyRising [Collaborative], which is doing a lot of community engagement work,” Bellamy said. “We reached out to PhillyRising because we had a relationship with them to see whether or not they would be interested in collaborating with us and then we would submit the grant on behalf of the city. We will be working in tandem with PhillyRising, who has a presence in the 22nd Police District.”
Goldkorn also emphasized the importance of collaborating with organizations and groups that are already doing similar work in neighborhoods around the city.
“There are already a lot of organizations in Philadelphia that address youth violence in particular but they’re quite disconnected,” Goldkorn said. “They didn’t really know about each other or what they did. It was really important to have a place for all of these people to connect and see what’s already out there and how they can complement one another. That’s one key aspect, verbalizing these agencies, churches as well, that provide resources to the target population.”
The grant will allow the program to hire more outreach workers, bringing its total staff from four to 10. It will also enable the program to expand into the 39th Police District and thus begin servicing another area afflicted with high rates of gun violence and homicide.
Kate Kelly can be reached at email@example.com.