‘We have no time to waste’: City lawmakers call for more funding for anti-violence efforts

Philadelphia city councilmember and Chair of the Children and Youth Committee Helen Gym joined city leaders in asking for at least 50 million dollars in the city budget to keep recreational centers open later and provide counseling and jobs for young people as part of the Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda, announced at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia city councilmember and Chair of the Children and Youth Committee Helen Gym joined city leaders in asking for at least 50 million dollars in the city budget to keep recreational centers open later and provide counseling and jobs for young people as part of the Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda, announced at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

With Philadelphia on pace to set a new single-year record for homicides, several members of City Council are calling on Mayor Jim Kenney to spend an additional $50 million — or more — on anti-violence efforts designed to keep young people safe from gun violence.

Under a plan announced on Tuesday, the funding would be drawn from the stimulus dollars coming the city’s way through the American Rescue Plan. The money would be used to support services and initiatives in the 10 ZIP codes most impacted by gun violence, as well as the 25 schools most impacted by the epidemic.

“For years, we’ve been operating under the assumption that funneling more money and resources into law enforcement and incarceration will keep our community safe. And time and time again, hundreds of millions of dollars does nothing for Black and brown communities most harmed by gun violence,” said City Councilmember Kendra Brooks during a news conference in South Philadelphia.

“I hope that we use this infusion of funds as an opportunity to reflect the fact that eradicating gun violence is a public safety priority, a public health priority, and a racial justice priority all wrapped into one,” said City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier.

Philadelphia city councilmember Jamie Gauthier at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The request comes amid a historic and unrelenting surge in gun violence. At least 215 people have been murdered in 2021, a 36% increase over the same time last year, when the city recorded its highest annual homicide tally in three decades.

More than 800 people have been shot in Philadelphia so far this year.

More than two-thirds of them were Black males, according to the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting. The majority of them were under the age of 30.

“Some future doctor, some future lawyer, some future teacher, even some future elected official will never get to reach his or her dream because he or she was killed before they could even graduate from high school,” said Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, which has proposed the city spend $100 million on fighting gun violence. 

In his latest budget proposal, Mayor Jim Kenney is asking for approximately $34 million for anti-violence efforts for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The total includes an additional $19 million in funding, which would be used to expand a pair of violence intervention programs, a transitional jobs initiative, as well as the city’s blight remediation efforts, among other priorities.

Kenney’s entire budget proposal totals $5.2 billion.

Philadelphia city councilmember Isaiah Thomas at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Over the coming year, the city is set to receive a total of $1.4 billion through the American Rescue Plan, the latest round of COVI-19 recovery funds from President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Kenney administration wants to use the federal funding to plug a projected $450 million revenue hole caused by the pandemic, reduce wage and business taxes, and boost spending in several areas over the coming years, including anti-violence efforts.

Under the proposal, the result of conversations with young people and the School District of Philadelphia, the administration would scrap its plans to reduce wage and business taxes, and instead use those dollars to make targeted investments in anti-violence efforts.

In a statement, mayoral spokesperson Deana Gamble said the administration has not reviewed the plan closely yet, but that it is “pleased that many of the recommendations are incorporated into our summer planning as well as year round work with the School District, Philadelphia Works, Philadelphia Youth Network and community-based partners.”

“Nothing is more important to the mayor and this administration than reducing gun violence and saving lives — especially the lives of innocent children,” said Gamble.

She declined to directly address the group’s $50 million request.

Reverend Gregory Holston, senior advisory on advocacy and policy at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, joined city leaders at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The proposal, spearheaded by City Councilmember Helen Gym and her Committee on Children and Youth, calls for guaranteed youth employment, expanding youth programming, universal trauma counseling, and safe and secure housing, among other things.

The goal would be to connect young people to jobs that pay $12 an hour and offer “sufficient hours,” according to the plan. It would also expand hours at recreation centers for teenagers and therapeutic services for youth and families impacted by violence, as well as establish a 24-hour trauma support line, and rapid response teams tasked with connecting with community members who live in the vicinity of a recent shooting.

The plan also calls on the city to provide relocation assistance for families and youth engaged in conflict who are likely to be harmed by violence, among other recommendations.

The committee’s plan focuses on helping young people in ZIP codes covering parts of Kensington, Strawberry Mansion, Cobbs Creek, Mill Creek, and Frankford.

It would focus on more than two dozen schools — traditional, charter, and alternative — across the city, including Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane, and Mastery-Gratz High School in Nicetown, and Excel Academy South near Feltonville.

Principal Le’Yondo Dunn of Mastery Simon Gratz High School at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Le’Yondo Dunn, principal of Mastery-Gratz, said Tuesday that his school community is no stranger to gun violence. In April, two students were fatally shot within 24 hours of one another. That same “heart-wrenching” week, a recent alumnus was also killed and another student was shot, he said.

“That week is not individual. That week occurs throughout the school year,” said Dunn. “This should not be the lived experience for our students and their families.”

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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