A new facility in Southwest Philadelphia is designed to help address the root causes of violence in the city, while bringing aftercare for victims and their families directly to the neighborhoods hit hardest.
The West/Southwest Collaborative Response to Gun Violence (WSW) is at 56th and Chestnut streets, which has experienced exponential increases in gun violence, murders, and related crimes over the past few years.
District Attorney Larry Krasner toured the facility on Monday as the blue ribbon was officially cut to open it. He said homicides are up 14% over this time last year with at least 450 people killed so far in 2021.
“Obviously that is terrible and deeply concerning,” said Krasner. “Our office has increased its communication and collaboration with law enforcement, victim advocates, and community stakeholders.”
Krasner said the city’s cash bail system is partly to blame for the rise in violence, because people being held for minor offences can’t afford to pay, while more dangerous defendants can be released on a few thousand dollars bond. He wants to change Philadelphia’s system to be more like the one in Washington D.C. where about two-thirds of defendants are released with terms that include drug testing, stay-away orders, or weekly phone or in-person reporting. About 10% get tighter monitoring, such as GPS ankle bracelets and home confinement.
“We stand in solidarity to say ‘enough is enough,’” Krasner said. “We have and will continue to use all of our resources to hold shooters and drivers of gun violence accountable.”
The facility is designed to put service providers closer to where the violence is happening so they can react quickly when it strikes, and hopefully prevent retaliation. Rev. Myra Maxwell is director of the DA’s CARES unit, which stands for Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement for Survivors of Homicides.
“Being in the community allows us to go out to the site, to the scene to support the families in an earlier way than we have in the past, because generally it would take time, we would have to deploy someone,” she said. “Well, we are already here in the community, able to deploy much sooner, and able to talk to more of the community members as well as the family members who are involved.”
She added the facility is not meant only to react to specific incidents.
“We also realize there is a need for a continuum of services,” she said. “Once we reach out to the family member, then we are able to provide the supportive services.”
In addition to the CARES facility, the WSW Collaborative has offered services from the Anti-Violence Partnership (AVP) of Philadelphia, a nonprofit victim services agency, which provides support services, including counseling to victims of violence and co-victims of homicide.
Natasha Danielá de Lima McGlynn, AVP’s executive director, said the number of people needing their services has exploded.
“The wait list for those seeking our counseling services increased by over 600%,” she said. “This amount drastically exceeds the capacity of our therapists on staff.”
One of the goals of the facility is to connect the people who need services with those who can provide them. McGlynn said they are doing their best to help victims heal “the moment they reach out to us.”
The office was originally AVP’s. McGlynn said making it a more community-centric space has given her team extra capacity to help people who need help.
“The vision is simple: Together we can end the cycle of violence,” said McGlynn.
“The more organizations that are coming together … like we are now, there’s a lot more work that we can do,” said Khalif Mujahid-Ali, founder and CEO of the Beloved Care Project, which is also part of the collective.
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