Peoria violence prevention leaders are cautious, but hopeful, about Cure Violence implementation in the East Bluff
The Peoria City/County Health Department is moving forward with implementation of the Cure Violence plan in Peoria's East Bluff neighborhood. The search is on for the Chicago-based organization to find a locally-based community partner.
With the new program on the horizon, community leaders and organizers are sharing their hopes and concerns.
Jessie McGown is a community advocate who walks the streets of the East Bluff and has conversations with the residents and kids. He’s been doing the work for years, and has regularly collaborated on outreach efforts with larger community organizations.
McGown has seen a lot of different community organizations and violence prevention programs over time. When it comes to Cure Violence, he's cautiously hopeful.
“I mean, I’m hoping they’re successful,” he said. “I hope anything from Cure Violence that’s going to help with the violence thing is going to be, I hope, is going to be, successful. But it’s pretty much proceeding along the way that I thought it was.”
In January, Cure Violence presented a readiness assessment to Peoria stakeholders and the Peoria City/County Health department approved an implementation plan. McGown, as he's been watching the process continue, said he's had some concerns about how the organization shares new information and updates.
“Because in the circle that I move in, they’re not even aware of what is even going on. I mean, I’m not even aware of what’s going on,” he said. “There’s a select few that’s being kept in the loop and the others, you get your bits and pieces wherever you get your bits and pieces from. Those are the people who usually need to know what’s going on.”
Cure Violence's program materials say working with individuals with "lived experiences" is vital to how it functions. An in-depth hiring and interview process finds the people to serve as "credible messengers," stepping in on situations before they escalate and preventing retaliatory violence.
From McGown's perspective, these are the people most important to reducing violence, but the framework for Cure Violence to work with them isn't quite in place.
“I understand it’s still early in the process, so I understand that part,” he said. “But to me, I would have thought connecting with the people in the street would have been one of the first things that you did. So, I’m wondering when is that supposed to take place if you’re moving forward?”
For others involved in outreach work, the intention to work with "credible messengers" is one of the most encouraging parts of the Cure Violence model.
Terry Burnside is executive director of House of Hope that provides trauma-informed care and mental health support. Though the agency is based on the city's south side (a future area Cure Violence hopes to expand to), Burnside has been involved with some of the community conversations.
“I share with them, there may be instances where law enforcement don’t want to work with guys like a Terry Burnside. Because of what I bring to the table, because of my past,” he said. “But when the guys express the importance of them, if you don’t have a Terry Burnside at the table, anything you’re trying to do will not work.”
Burnside said it's been encouraging to see the organization really drive the point home at public presentations and stakeholder meetings that reducing violence is going to be most successful when the message comes from someone who used to be involved in it.
“When you have a credible messenger who, I know speaking for myself, has those lived experiences,” he said. “I think we are a lot more credible when trying to reach this targeted population who really need that help, who need that guidance. So we have a leg up.”
In fact, Burnside said he hopes to be involved with the hiring and selection process that will bring Cure Violence’s outreach workers and violence interrupters on board.
“I would love to be a part of that vetting process,” he said. “That’s where a lot of dropped the ball in the past. They want to pick individuals who they are familiar with, who say they are this. But then when you take them back to certain areas, they’re so disconnected to where you’re not even a real viable part of trying to make change.”
Another way House of Hope could potentially be involved with Cure Violence is through the Community Based Organization request for proposals process.
The Cure Violence model for Peoria works through a chain of organizations: Cure Violence provides access to training and resources to the Peoria City/County Health Department that oversees and contracts out hiring to an organization physically established in the East Bluff area.
The health department is picking an organization through an application released Jan. 30, with the deadline set for Feb. 28. Officials said they expect to have the organization selected in March. Though House of Hope doesn't currently have a physical location in the East Bluff community, Burnside said they would like to apply to do something to assist.
However, there are still a few reservations for Burnside, who thinks the data leading to the East Bluff area's selection may not take the full history of violence in Peoria into account.
“They said based off of the data, but even the information they used in this PowerPoint presentation was so dated,” he said. “That they shared at the last Cure Violence meeting, City of Peoria provided that information and it’s totally off the mark. They’re saying based on the activity in the East Bluff, they’re focusing on there because there’s been a lot going on there. But look at the history, a lot of it is south side.”
McGown agrees with Burnside, and is concerned that, while the chosen segment of the East Bluff may look like a hot area based on the last few years of data, it's other areas that demonstrate consistent issues over time.
“There are other areas I’ve been talking about, that have been hot for 10 years. Especially right at Arcadia and Knoxville, that area has been hot for years and years. Same with the Republic area,” he said. “There’s about three areas on the East Bluff that have been hot for years. I want to see if they take on those areas and just not take some area that’s a flash in the pan.”
McGown also is somewhat skeptical of the sustainability of the implemented programs.
“I don’t see how five years from now this program will still be going, doing what it should be doing,” he said. “Because the money’s not going to be there, it takes a lot of money to run this kind of program.”
So far, the Peoria City/County Health Department has received $250,000 in funding from the City of Peoria to pay for Cure Violence’s readiness assessment and start implementation. The department also has requested an additional $1.2 million from state funding sources. An estimated budget provided by Cure Violence in the readiness assessment lists the yearly operational costs of the program at around $500,000.
Corine Barnes, chief program officer at House of Hope, has some concerns of her own. She has a clinical background in mental health counseling and has been helping to expand the range of mental health assistance the organization can provide.
“Terry and I are getting ready to increase our nonviolence training that we’re going to be having,” she said. “One component is emotional intelligence and the other half is de-escalation. Me and Terry both feel that you have to have emotional intelligence first before you are able to de-escalate any type or form of violence.”
She would like to see similar, robust mental health support for everyone the Cure Violence program hires on as outreach workers and violence interrupters.
“We have to invest into the actual outreach staff,” Barnes said. “A lot of the current approach is that we take individuals who are incarcerated, we put them back in the same community or area where they developed that generational trauma and environmental trauma. And we expect them to, now, give that support and mentorship that they didn’t receive.”
Kari Jones, executive director of the East Bluff Community Center, said her organization is excited to see where Cure Violence can take the area.
“It’s one piece to the puzzle, but I think it’s a really, really important piece,” she said. “I’m glad we’re going to be able to start moving forward with it.”
The center's goal is to face challenges and build a stronger community in the East Bluff, through measures like food pantries, weekly meals and as a gathering space for community events.
Jones said the agency won't be applying for the CBO spot, as direct intervention is outside of East Bluff Community Center's capacity and mission right now. But she's not nervous about Cure Violence finding a good partner for implementation.
“As long as, like we just talked about, it’s really utilizing people that are in the neighborhood and people who are familiar with the situation and the dynamic,” she said. “That piece of it is not really worrisome to us, we thrive on partnerships at the East Bluff Community Center.”
Overall, community leaders seem hopeful for results from Cure Violence, even if they still have some questions. McGown said, when it comes down to it, it will depend on Cure Violence sticking to its stated desire to let the community drive the process.
“Outside, looking in from the outside sometimes is better. But usually, you’re going to get a false view if you’re not living on the inside,” he said. “So that’s the problem that I’m having. We keep doing the same thing, the same way and looking for different results. It just doesn’t happen that way.”
You can read more about Cure Violence’s implementation recommendations hereand find a full interview with the Cure Violence CEO here that explains more about how the model works.