New funding for Philly program that helps families of murder victims

Myra Maxwell (right) is the Director of the Philadelphia CARES Unit in the District Attorneys Office. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Myra Maxwell (right) is the Director of the Philadelphia CARES Unit in the District Attorneys Office. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has received a $1.2 million grant to continue helping families of homicide victims through its CARES program, a real-time, rapid-response initiative launched in October 2018.

The program, funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, offers families grief counseling, helps to make funeral arrangements, and even provides assistance getting utilities turned back on. The program will soon launch a 24/7 phone service where residents can connect with Peer Crisis Responders — people who personally know the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announces 3 additional years in funding for the CARES (Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors) program. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The goal is to lend a hand to families immediately after a murder has occurred, as well as in the weeks ahead, particularly the first 45 days after the incident. The program is also designed to free up homicide detectives to focus on their investigations.

“[The families] don’t know what to do after the incident. They’re just lost,” said Yvonne Nelson, a crisis responder with Philadelphia CARES, short for Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors.

The new funding will cover the next three years of the program. It comes as homicides continue to surge in Philadelphia.

To date, the Philadelphia Police Department has recorded 13 murders, very nearly double the total at the same time last year.

In 2020, 499 people were murdered — the highest annual total of deaths since 1990 and one shy of the highest homicide rate since 1960.

“We are in a moment when the community and all of law enforcement, victims and survivors, need as much help as they can possibly get,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner during a news conference on Monday.

Krasner’s office will share the grant with the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office and the nonprofit Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia.

Myra Maxwell, Director of the Philadelphia CARES Unit and District Attorney Larry Krasner examine a new vehicle to be used by the CARES program, purchased with part of the new 1.2 million dollars in funding awarded. (Kimberly Paynter/

The program, which employs 14 full- and part-time staffers, began with a $1 million grant in 2018.

It was created after the District Attorney’s Office was criticized for its treatment of families of homicide victims, including the family of police Sgt. Robert Wilson III, who was killed in the line of duty in 2015.

Wilson’s family said they learned the office was offering his killers a plea deal just days before it was cemented in court.

Krasner announced the program’s second grant during the first in a series of weekly news conferences the office plans to hold regarding their work.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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