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Better Family Life Tackles Gun Violence — In 'The Neighborhood, The Front Porch, The Living Room'

Pearl Tabb contacted James Clark of Better Family Life after her son was shot in September.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Pearl Tabb contacted James Clark of Better Family Life after her son was shot in September.

Pearl Tabb’s son was shot in her St. Louis apartment complex in September 2019. It wasn’t the first time he was shot, but this time, the wound was more serious. Tabb felt lost.

“I’m like, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know what to do. I need help.’”

She found support through Better Family Life’s 24/7 hotline. Better Family Life is a nonprofit dedicated to tackling social and economic problems in St. Louis, and its hotline helps callers connect with people trained in de-escalation and mediation techniques. They also offer assistance with seeking counseling and medical supplies.

After hearing Tabb’s story, James Clark, vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, was ready to tackle the situation head-on.

“We called Mr. Clark. He came immediately and talked to me and my son,” Tabb said.

Tabb was able to receive medical supplies and nurse support for her son’s recovery via the de-escalation program. She and her son also moved into a new place, with the hope of putting some distance between him and the conflict he was involved in.

“It gave me great peace of mind,” she said.

Since January 2017, the organization has de-escalated 130 documented conflicts. If it can’t mitigate the situation, it works on relocating one of the parties to a different residence. The organization has moved about 30 people out of St. Louis because of conflicts in which the other adversary was clear that they weren’t interested in mediation.

“We just relocated a young man two days ago whose survival possibilities in St. Louis were slim to none,” Clark said. 

Overall, Clark said the program has been successful, and he feels it needs to be expanded, especially in the coming months.

“I’m frightened for this spring and summer,” he said. “St. Louis has a terminal problem, and it’s called crime and violence. … I’m encouraged because I see St. Louis beginning to wake up, but we’ve got to begin to move faster.”

Clark said that overall, community advocates and organizations spend too much time studying and researching the problem of gun violence. It’s his belief that in order to truly tackle gun violence in the city, people need to focus on what he calls the “NPL,” which stands for “the neighborhood, the front porch and the living room.” 

“Social service organizations have got to be willing to go into the neighborhoods, stand on the front porch, and go sit in the living room,” he said. “That’s where you’ll get the best lens. … Study it, analyze it, or research our neighborhoods from the living room view, and you can come up with real-time solutions.”

Although Tabb credits Better Family Life with helping her family through a difficult time, her fight for her son is not over.

“He was doing great at first, but he needs help. I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. He got ahold of some fentanyl, and he’s gone berserk.”

Drug abuse treatment is another support service that Better Family Life provides, and Clark is not giving up on Tabb’s son.

“I will be having a conversation with him today,” Clark said. “If he’s willing to go … we are able to get him into treatment within 24 hours.”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske spoke with Clark and Tabb. Paula Neely of St. Louis also shares her story of calling the hotline back in 2017. Hear the full conversation: 

If you’re aware of a situation that could escalate to gun violence, you can reach Better Family Life’s de-escalation hotline at 314-203-3900.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.