Anti-violence teams surge as $50 million in Allegheny County funding flows

Richard Garland, center, seated, executive director of Reimagine Reentry, laughs with his team on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in their Hill District offices. Garland and his team work to identify trends in community violence and to prevent violence through victim relocation, connecting to services and supports and creating community relationships. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Teams that respond to every shooting, hurry to hospitals, work with at-risk youth and otherwise try to curb violence are building rosters and redoubling efforts. Can an unprecedented county commitment reduce the bloodshed?

by Venuri Siriwardane, PublicSource

When a victim of gun violence is brought to UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, a nurse in the trauma center might rush to their station and pick up a business card from Richard Garland. 

They might use a smartphone to scan the QR code on the card, which pulls up a form they can fill out and send to Garland’s team at Reimagine Reentry, where he serves as executive director. The form provides crucial information about the victim, including their name, age, where they were shot and whether they’ve consented to receiving services from the nonprofit, which is based in the Hill District. 

Within 24 hours, a violence prevention coach from Reimagine will visit their bedside and offer services such as therapy, job training and housing assistance. The goal, said Garland, is to intercept victims before they retaliate — a practice that could result in fewer gun-related homicides and help stop the cycle of violence in Allegheny County communities.      

Garland and just one other person on his team, Gina Brooks, did this work on their own for years. It would take them up to three days to reach a victim’s bedside, which meant fewer opportunities to help before they were discharged. But an infusion of cash from the county — more than $370,000 over the last year — has changed that. Garland was able to pay for the QR code system and hire three staffers for Reimagine’s hospital-based violence intervention program. Now his team is able to reach victims across four hospitals in less than a day. 

“Being able to go to these hospitals at the drop of a hat has changed things significantly,” Garland said. 

“Just us being able to have this funding has enabled me to take things to another level.”

It’s been six months since the county announced it would commit $50 million over five years to reduce community violence, which happens between unrelated people outside their homes and disproportionately affects youth in communities of color. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services [ACDHS] selected 13 local organizations through two requests for proposals to carry out its plan: to treat violence like an infectious disease. The effort adapts programs that have proven to be successful in other cities — including three from Chicago — to “high-priority areas” in the county. 

An act of violence is rarely limited to one neighborhood, said Rev. Paul Abernathy. “If we don’t have a coordinated effort across community lines, it will be difficult to address the violence in our region.” 


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