A massive influx of federal dollars has begun to combat violence on the streets of Chicago

After getting out of the Sagrada Familia Funeral Home with the family of Vincent Hernandez, Cecilia Manion gets in her car and calls her boss.

“I need advisors here.”

Mannion was in the middle of helping the Hernandez family make funeral arrangements and Find out how to pay for it. Now, she wanted to make sure there were mental health professionals at the funeral to support his family.

Hernandez, 39, was shot dead In the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago two days ago. He left behind four children, the youngest of whom is only 3 years old.

Manion is a victim advocate for Enlace Chicago based in Little Village. From her experience, she realized that it would be important to have counselors at the funeral “to help support these young children through the ‘Why puts the father in the casket’ process?” Or why dad doesn’t talk to them.”

Besides working at the funeral, Manion sat with the Hernandez family for hours all night in the hospital and was helping them communicate with the police about the shooting.

Mannion also tries to ease tensions after the shooting and stand up to anyone who might seek revenge. And while it’s not her concern about the Hernandez family, it’s an important part of her job, persuading friends and family to let the police and courts handle the shooter.

Enlace Chicago is one of about forty organizations that received checks last month from the state of Illinois, the first installment on a pledge by Governor J.B. Pritzker to transfer $250 million in federal COVID relief funds to community organizations working to address the gun violence crisis in the state. Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s Office of Firearms Violence sent out $2 million in grants last month. Enless’s cut was about $30,000, and the state pledged to send another $650,000 in American Rescue Plan money to the organization over the next three years. State officials are quick to point out that this influx of federal dollars is in excess of the millions the state already spends on organizations like Enlace each year.

“Sometimes we see a need, and we can’t wait”

Jesse Huerta, director of violence intervention at Enlace, said the organization spends its public dollars on special youth programs for young people in Little Village, special events for residents, ongoing gang intervention efforts and victim support services like the kind Mannion provides.

Weeks of Shading Mannion by WBEZ show she’s rarely off the clock and is devoted nonstop to the grieving families and gunshot survivors she serves. This dedication often means that she indulges in her limited personal money to buy bandages and saline for gunshot victims or help a family struggling to get a bite to eat.

Huerta said workers using their own money “are not encouraged within the agency, but sometimes we see a need, and we can’t wait.”

“So we definitely need more support for capacity building, building on victim advocacy work, building on outreach in the street,” Huerta said. “There are so many people in need that we may not, because of capacity, be able to provide the necessary services.”

Cecilia Manion passes many prayer cards in her home for the individuals she has helped or assisted with grieving families on the South Side.

Anthony Vasquez/Sun Times

Assistant Secretary of Human Services Chris Patterson said helping organizations like Enlace better serve their communities is exactly why his gun violence prevention office was created last year.

“There have been small organizations that have been working to prevent violence for decades. Those organizations have been operating with little budget or out of their own money, Patterson said.

He said he is dedicated to partnering with organizations that have real roots in the state’s most violent communities and can use their knowledge to reach people “trapped in the cycle of violence.”

Reverend Sierra Bates Chamberlain, president of Live Free Illinois, has called on the state to spend federal COVID relief money on anti-violence efforts. She said she was grateful for the money flowing to community organizations but wished it could have happened sooner.

“Ideally, it would have been great if there was a lot of that money available before the summer in Illinois, when we knew there was going to be an upsurge in violence,” Bates Chamberlain said.

She said her group and her ilk are giving “blessing” to leaders of countries “understanding that this is new, they are trying to put together their strategies and systems.”

“But when there’s an urgency about actually saving lives, I mean, of course, we’d say we would have liked the money to have been disbursed sooner,” Bates Chamberlain said.

In addition to grants to violence prevention organizations, Illinois Secretary of Human Services Grace Ho said her agency has also committed millions to youth development and other areas aimed at helping reduce gun violence. For the state’s fiscal year that ended last month, Hu said they received $76 million of the $84 million pledged.

In the world of public finance, Hu said, this is a “good” percentage of dollars committed to dollars sent.

“So far it works”

On the Thursday evening before the Fourth of July weekend, a large inflatable slide was erected on the former site of the Rockwell Gardens public housing complex. The slide was the center of an event in a park near West Jackson Boulevard and South Rockwell Street, which featured hot dogs, card games and loud music.

Serenzo Strong, an anti-violence worker for Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Garfield Park, said the “Light the Night” event was intended to give neighborhood children and adults a safe place to play. It was also an opportunity to fill the sometimes tense area with anti-violence workers like Strong, who had grown up on the West Side.

“You’re trying to keep the peace, you’re trying to [persuade people to] Put the guns aside. Walking through the crowd, Strong said, upside down.

It was a beautiful, relaxing night, but Strong said this site is a major focus for his violence prevention organization because people with connections to the former apartment complex are returning to their old neighborhood and fights can develop.

City data shows seven shootings in the area so far this year. This is not a particularly high number on the West Side but is bad for the low population. Disagreements between the various groups that gather around the park could eventually lead to shootings elsewhere on the West Side, Strong said.

“This is a real hot spot, because if something happens here, it spoils the whole summer,” Strong said. “Because that’s like where everyone hangs out and gathers. Everyone knows each other, and then it’s like…three different organizations are all around us and when something happens, it can screw up and go around the whole city.”

Breakout, where Strong works, is another organization that got some funding in June. For workers like Strong, every night on the job carries an incredibly high stake, even if it’s not immediately apparent to an outside observer.

Tonya Reed works for Breakthrough as well, and was at the June 30 event as well. The year before, she said, the Light the Night party in the park had ended with a shooting. She said no one was hit because “the angels protect us.” Reed said the shooting might discourage other groups from returning.

But they knew how important it was to maintain a peaceful presence in the garden.

“We just want to be a blessing to the neighborhood and stop the violence,” Reid said.

She said she was grateful for the public dollars that helped make this happen.

Patrick Smith is a reporter for the Office of Criminal Justice at WBEZ. follow him Tweet embed. Email it to psmith@wbez.org.

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