Rossman hopeful other groups will step in to meet victims’ assistance needs after PCAV closes
Becky Rossman doesn’t want to see the families of gun violence victims left without a place to turn.
“I'm hopeful organizations try to step up and fill in for the work that we were doing,” said Rossman, who served as CEO of Peoria Community Against Violence (PCAV) until the non-profit victims’ services organization ceased operations on Nov. 30.
Rossman said efforts to secure the financial support needed to sustain PCAV, with help from the Peoria police and health departments, were unable to close the organization's $300,000 funding gap created by a reduction of money available from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
“The majority of our organization was covered by a Multi-Victimization grant through VOCA dollars, and nationally that entire program ended for gun violence across the nation — even though gun violence is at an all-time high,” Rossman said. “In Peoria, our violent crime rate is 154% higher than the national average and 130% higher than the state average. VOCA dollars are down across the board; it's going to affect some other organizations in town.
“We did have about $60,000 worth of donations. We actually had [a] $100,000-event planned, and we were walking in with $30,000 of sponsorships of net income. But we want to be good stewards of the community’s money. So if there was a chance of us closing, we didn't want to go ahead and have this fundraiser and then close.”
Originally formed a decade ago as the “Don’t Shoot” program, PCAV applied for one of the city’s anti-violence grants earlier this year but was not selected to receive part of the $1.4 million that was split among six other initiatives.
“That definitely would have helped us at least for another year, while we got our legs up under us,” Rossman said. “We had other things in place; I was working on becoming a United Way agency, or other things to extend our sustainability. So that (grant) would have given us the grace period to be able to sustain. I don't know why we didn't get it.
“I think unfortunately, we have a lot of division in our community, and I really want to focus on unity and bringing people together so that we can start working on solving the complex issues of gun violence. Not just gun violence. I mean, the majority of people we work with are in poverty. We have a lack of affordable housing, food insecurity. We have a multitude of issues in our community.”
Rossman said the absence of PCAV expands the need to help those coping with the trauma of gun violence, notably in the East Bluff where PCAV had been slated to handle the Peoria County Health Department’s Cure Violence efforts.
“I don't know anyone else who provides the services that we do or works with our clientele,” Rossman said. “I will tell you that when we (planned) for our dissolution, we voted for Children's Home (Association) to receive any leftover funds. They have been one of our closest partners. A lot of the kids we work with have questionable records: stealing cars, gun charges. Most of the community resources wouldn't take our kids, but Children's Home was a great partner in helping us provide services for not only the kids but the entire family.”
Rossman also pointed to other places victims’ families can look for help.
“We had a lot of partner agencies and we had a lot of shared clients,” she said. “We referred a lot of people to the Center for Prevention of Abuse, because of domestic violence. We worked with Neighborhood House; they have a lot of comprehensive services.
“But one of the things we did is, once we started providing services for the person who was shot in the family, we worked with everyone who lived inside that home and helped them with all the needed resources, which would oftentimes helped deter the violence in that area, and especially in that home.”
She added another organization they often recommend is Heart of Illinois United Way.
“They have a 211 line, and on average when someone calls, they help with five to six different issues that that particular family has,” Rossman said. “So that would be a good place to start, and then everything else just kind of depends on what service they need.
“At PCAV, we had over 100 community partners. We had great relationships within those organizations, and they would fast-track our clients. For example, we had a couple of young children witness homicides, and we were able to get them therapy in their schools. So the parents didn't have to worry about transportation. They could just pull them out of class and Children's Home got them in the next day because they have therapists within the schools.”
Rossman also called on community members to play a part in helping reduce violence.
“You don't have to be part of an organization and you don't have to have a title to make a difference, just helping out your neighbor,” she said. “One of the things we did the most was giving people rides, rides to job interviews, rides to medical appointments. We need more of that, community member helping community member, utilizing those community resources.
“A lot of people want to give back and they just don't know how. We had a very small staff; I mean, for last few months, it's just been me and Cara Wilson and we had over 670 clients this past year. People wonder how we were so successful at PCAV: We exceeded all of our metrics, not just because of us, but it was all the people around us, multiple organizations that stepped up and helped us carry on our mission. So that can continue to be done, even if PCAV is not there.”