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“Safer Together” Initiative Unveiled In Hampton Roads To Address Gun Violence

The “Safer Together” initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a $2 million Gun Prevention and Intervention program designed to combat the growing issue of gun violence in Hampton Roads. This multi-stakeholder approach involves community-based organizations, hospitals, and academia, working collaboratively to reduce community violence in Southeastern Virginia.

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“Safer Together” Initiative Unveiled In Hampton Roads To Address Gun Violence

By Melissa Spellman

Staff Reporter

New Journal and Guide

Gun violence has devastated our country, our communities, and our families. In a recent Facebook post, Sentara Health shared that the Norfolk General trauma program will treat more than 500 victims of gun violence and assault this year alone.

Many organizations committed to gun violence prevention are doing great work in the Hampton Roads community, including C.L.E.A.N. (Citizens Learning About Neighborhoods), The Berkley Timberwolves Football and Youth Sports organization and Malon’s Project Inc.

However, with gun violence becoming more prevalent everyday there is more work to be done, more lives to impact, and more organizations and individuals willing to heed the call. Recently, an initiative “Safer Together” to answer the call was unveiled to the public at a gathering at Norfolk State University.

“Safer Together,” a Gun Prevention and Intervention initiative, is designed to serve Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Newport News and Hampton. This initiative will work with community-based organizations (CBOs), hospitals, and academia to reduce community violence in Southeastern Virginia.

The $2 million initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and is a part of the national Community Violence Prevention and Intervention grant program. Alex De Paula, Program Director and a key contributor to securing the grant, shared that this initiative was one of 16 awardees across the country to receive this grant. “No CBO (community-based organization) in Virginia has ever secured a federal grant of this magnitude,” said De Paula.

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He expounded on what this new pilot program entails. “The Safer Together initiative is a multi-stakeholder regional approach to gun violence prevention and intervention across Hampton Roads. It brings three CBOs, three hospital-based programs, and a research partner to collaborate on effective violence prevention and intervention strategies,” said De Paula.

The violence prevention component is the work to be done by three CBOs which include Ketchmore Kids and Give Back 2 Da Block.

The intervention component involves Hospital Based Violence Intervention Programs (HBVIP) directed by Riverside, Sentara, and Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.

Norfolk State University will serve as the research partner component of the initiative, providing data collection, research, and reporting.

“Our focus is on case management support to hospitals that treat gunshot wound victims,” said De Paula. He added that high risk individuals for gun violence are also at risk of retaliatory violence. That’s where Ketchmore Kids and Give Back 2 Da Block come in as Violence Interrupters and serve as Credible Messengers.

De Paula explains that these Violence Interrupters are members of organizations known in their respective communities where they are trusted. He noted that often there is an assistance program already available in a health clinic, however, when it is offered to victims of gun violence by the hospital staff, patients and families are not receptive. This is likely due to mistrust of medical staff and law enforcement. When there is a Violence Interrupter present serving as a Credible Messenger, the patients and families feel safe, and build a trust that is necessary to access resources.

When gathering research De Paula asked hospitals, ‘what was the number one need of your patients’? The resounding answer was housing assistance in the sense of relocation services. For this reason, $300,000 will be designated for relocation services. De Paula explained that when a violent act happens in the victim’s community, they no longer feel safe. This requires relocation temporarily until they feel safe to return or can transit to a new permanent residence.

Alex De Paula views gun violence as a public health issue. He is passionate about this initiative and helping more community-based organizations to come together to have a greater impact in our communities.

De Paula stated, “If you are not from the community, you can feel detached from the community and its issues feeling that it doesn’t affect you or your family.”

He argues that if you get involved or give back to the community whether it’s mentoring at-risk youth or helping a family address food insecurity, many people will find that they have more in common with these individuals and communities than they thought.

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De Paula suggests that if you want to help with gun violence prevention, volunteer your services.

“You don’t have to go to a shooting to help a family in crisis. What you can do is volunteer with an after-school program, help kids with their homework, or with school supplies.”

De Paula believes that showing up and showing the youth that someone cares that alone is gun violence prevention.

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