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Cure Violence St. Louis moves forward with hirings and plans for center

Cure Violence St. Louis moves forward with hirings and plans for center

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Will Milwaukee's program to cure violence work in St. Louis

414LIFE worker Chris Conley talks to resident Mattie Roberts on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conley and other members of 414LIFE were canvassing the neighborhood and handing out literature about their organization. They were asking residents to call them if they knew of conflicts that could possibly escalate into violence. Roberts said there was a murder several months ago at the bar/lounge where she works as a cook. "I hid in the kitchen when the shooting started. It's bad out here," she said. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Hiring has begun for Cure Violence St. Louis, the program officials hope will slice into the city’s persistent plague of gun violence.

People in the Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods of north St. Louis will begin to see newly trained Cure Violence workers in their neighborhood in the first week of April, city officials said.

The city has designated $7 million for the Chicago-based Cure Violence program, designed to address gun violence and deter people from pursuing violent actions in communities experiencing high crime rates. The money should be enough to fund three neighborhood centers for up to three years, city Health Department Director Fredrick Echols said this week. Following the establishment of the first center in the Wells-Goodfellow/Hamilton Heights area, future centers are anticipated for Dutchtown and Walnut Park.

Officials announced in February that nonprofit Employment Connection will operate the Cure Violence model at the Wells-Goodfellow/Hamilton Heights site under a $750,000 contract. Employment Connection has operated in St. Louis for more than four decades, helping people with criminal backgrounds find steady employment, and CEO Sal Martinez says this background makes the organization well-suited to run Cure Violence.

“It’s the next logical step in our evolution,” Martinez said. “We already generate a lot of clients from high-crime neighborhoods in the city, and we’re already connecting them with wraparound services that we offer in-house. We pride ourselves on not turning anyone away who seeks our assistance.”

Martinez said he anticipates the location for the city’s first Cure Violence center to be chosen “in the next week or so.”

The center will have eight employees: a site manager, an outreach supervisor, three outreach workers and three “violence interrupters.” Echols said the salary for an outreach worker will be “competitive” compared with a government position such as a community health worker, with salaries around $30,000.

A hiring panel that includes consultants from Cure Violence Global will help select workers. Applications will be accepted until Monday.

Connecting with the community as a Cure Violence worker requires an awareness of what it’s like to live in a high-crime environment, Cure Violence officials have said.

“We’re looking for folks who have a background in this type of work, and who have demonstrated credibility in this community,” Martinez said. “It’s unconventional work. This is a very grassroots approach to violence reduction.”

Once workers are hired, training begins at the end of March, officials said. Not only will Cure Violence workers de-escalate conflicts that might lead to gun violence, outreach workers will also offer resources to residents, and community events “both small and large” will be held about once a month to build relationships, Echols said.

The city and Employment Connection will track the number of referrals for resources and the number of potentially violent conflicts that were averted.

In April, Echols said, the city plans to release a request for proposals for organizations interested in operating Cure Violence centers in the Dutchtown and Walnut Park neighborhoods.

Echols said he knows the program has its skeptics, which is part of the reason he’s working to ensure “things are done right on the front end.” He hopes to divert people in high-crime neighborhoods who might be on the wrong path.

“It’s easy to complain, especially if you don’t understand,” Echols said. “Particularly with justice-involved individuals, what the system has taught us to do, even subconsciously, is put a label on them, put them in the justice system and forget about them. That hasn’t worked, and it won’t work ... we want to set them up for other employment opportunities. This is a way to help improve our community.”

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