Activists call for more funding for community violence intervention programs

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ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A grassroots organization that aims to prevent gun violence gathered virtually Wednesday to call for increased funding for community-led gun violence prevention efforts.

The group, LIVE FREE Illinois, wants state leaders to invest 2% of the $7.5 billion going to Illinois from the American Rescue Plan into violence prevention programs, including violence intervention outreach, hospital-based intervention programs and therapeutic programs to help those traumatized by gun violence.

This funding would be in addition to a $5 billion investment pledge from the Biden Administration toward community violence intervention programs.

Champaign Pastor Terrance Thomas with Bethel AME Church called the 2% goal a “miniscule” amount. He said it is “time to show and prove where our priorities lie.”

“It was said you can tell where priorities lie by looking at how we budget and spend resources,” Thomas said. “I submit for too long those of us engaged in violence prevention have either been underfunded or misfunded.”

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen said she would welcome more money to help address gun violence as a public health crisis.

“I think we’re very intentional about how we spend our money and how we grow those programs to make sure that they have capacity, but there is more need than there are resources for sure,” she said.

The recent wave of violence has highlighted the urgency, but Feinen said Champaign can’t solve the issue simply through arrests.

“If you look at the city programs that have developed over the last six or seven years, they really are around those root causes, and not just expecting that our police are going to arrest their way out of all of the gun violence,” Feinen said. She added that the city is “also looking at how do we make a difference so that the next generation of kids are not picking up guns. For the families that are impacted by gun violence, having resiliency in place and making sure that the victims and the families have opportunities to have health care and mental health care is really important.”

She hopes the city’s partnership with Unit 4 Schools in the LIFT program (Leading Individuals and Families to Transformation) will help strengthen the community as well.

“It was one of the programs that as we made cuts during the pandemic downturn, the City Council directed staff to leave in our budget, even though it’s a new program, because we felt so strongly about it,” Feinen explained. “The idea is just to really wrap around the entire family and to provide support and help them within the community. So, it’s something thata will have a 24-hour hotline. It will have people who are basically direct contact counselor-type positions that will be available for families. It will be a connection to resources for families and [it’s] really just an opportunity to make sure that we are supporting those most in need.”

The school district is set to talk about continuing funding for LIFT at its next meeting.

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