Anti-violence groups ramp up efforts in St. Louis with different approaches
On Monday morning, St. Louis detectives began work on the city’s 145th homicide case since January. The body of a 25-year-old man was found in a car with multiple gunshot wounds in the Mark Twain neighborhood, an area less than two miles square that has already experienced six murders in the past nine months.
“It’s worse than it has ever been,” said Erica Jones, whose 24-year-old daughter was killed in a drive-by shooting in August. The young woman died in her sister’s arms.
“We do have a lot of young people who doesn’t even know the beginning of the impact of what they’ve done, when it comes to tearing a family apart, when you choose to put your fists down and go pick up a gun,” Jones said.
Gun violence prevention efforts have taken on a new urgency as the city of St. Louis grapples with a body count 1.5 times as high as it was at this time last year. But groups spearheading these programs often face challenges to scale up their efforts.
City transfers $60,000 to Better Family Life
During a press conference Monday, city officials announced $60,000 in new funding for Better Family Life, a nonprofit that provides social services throughout the region. The majority of the funds will go to the organization’s Neighborhood Alliance Program, which employs outreach workers who go door-to-door in selected neighborhoods, connecting residents with existing resources.
“A baby bed, a car seat, a smoke detector. Those are important because it’s the survival of those children and those families, and keeping them safe,” said Melba Moore, director of the St. Louis Health Department. “If there is a need for behavioral health services, we want to link those families to where they can go and get those services,” Moore said.
Gun violence, Moore said, is a public health issue, and should be treated as such.
The $60,000 of city funds is broken down as follows: The Health Department is awarding a $30,000 contract to Better Family Life’s Neighborhood Alliance, which will also receive $20,000 from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s asset forfeiture fund. An additional $10,000 from the Health Department will go towards Better Family Life’s services promoting sexual health.
The funding follows a $55,000 donation from the city’s public safety fund six months ago. But the cash is merely a fraction of the $1.9 million that Better Family Life’s vice president James Clark says is necessary to fully ramp up the program. He estimates 50 outreach workers would be necessary to serve all of the city’s neighborhoods in need. With a current budget of $225,000, the Neighborhood Alliance only employs five full-timers.
“We have the model in place, it must be brought to scale,” Clark said. He hopes to make up the difference with corporate donations.
St. Louis clergy expand nighttime walks
Though they haven’t been the recipient of city funding, a group of St. Louis clergy members are beginning to expand their own effort to reduce gun violence in north St. Louis.
Three times a week for the past few months, members of NightLIFE have donned reflective vests and walked through two north St. Louis neighborhoods between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., forming a “ministry of presence.” They stop to chat and pray with people they meet, and hand out sandwiches if they can.
This time, at 5 p.m. on a Monday, a group of ten people met outside a Burger King near the Delmar Loop for the first daytime walk. One pastor played gospel music from his cell phone.
Reverend Ken McKoy of the Progressive A.M.E. Zion Church, who leads the group, said he added the Monday walks because of the number of people who wanted to get involved, but weren’t able to attend at night.
“It gives us a way of better connecting with the community,” McKoy said. “I think it’s important for the residents, for businesses, to know that we’re out here, and that we’re out here on a consistent basis.”
In October, McKoy plans to hold another training session for people who are interested in joining. He has plans for a night walk on bicycles, too. Though the group is comprised entirely of volunteers, media exposure has led private donors to start contacting him. McKoy said it was a surprise, but a gesture that is appreciated.
“We’re going to do this right through the fall and through the winter, so we’re going to need heavy jackets,” McKoy said.