The Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI), led by BCHS's Richard Garland, was awarded funds by the RK Mellon Foundation to launch an outreach project called McKeesport Violence Prevention (MVP) in McKeesport, a community located about 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
“We are hiring four outreach workers who will really be violence interrupters,” said Garland. “Their jobs will be to interrupt the transmission of the disease of violence in the McKeesport area. We specifically picked McKeesport, because it is one of the ten highest communities in the US for rates of violence.”
The VPI is a multi-pronged research and outreach effort within the Center for Health Equity. The GRIPS (Gunshot Re-occurring Injury Prevention Services) project sees gunshot victims in four major trauma units at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Mercy, Allegheny General Hospital, and Forbes Hospital to offer needed services and referrals. “Through GRIPS, we hope to stop the next homicide, and possibly the next shooting,” said Garland. “It is due to our relationship with the community that enables us to do this work. We are in a unique position to gather information to stem the future spread of the disease of violence.”
Another VPI project is the Homicide Review, which is managed by Project Coordinator Gina Brooks. Since 2012, this program has brought together community members, social workers, and police, probation, and parole officers, using surveillance data, to identify the preventative services necessary for families and communities to end violence. The Homicide Review released their first executive summary in 2020.
Lastly, the VPI partners with Operation Better Block, based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, to offer the Re-Imagine Re-Entry program, which works with returning citizens from state and federal institutions.
“We’ve already completed three cohorts of pre-apprenticeship readiness training of those interested in the trades,” said Garland. “After their completion of this course, they can gain access to any union of their choice. This is an excellent opportunity for returning citizens.” Garland also added, “Re-Imagine is not only about the trades. Due to our relationships in the community, we have other partners who will hire returning citizens, [including] UPMC, Bidwell [Training Center], and a few others who are involved in working with this population.” The pre-apprentice readiness training mentioned is currently funded by the Hillman and Pittsburgh foundations. In the future, the VPI hopes for funding from the state Department of Corrections for their efforts around workforce development.
“Our work is about changing the narrative,” Garland said. “We feel we can stem the tide of violence through our relationships and opportunities. We intend to do our work one community at a time. This is not something that is done overnight. We must be consistent in our intervention at the community level. This is something we do from the heart and love of our community.”
Garland added, “I understand we are in an academic institution, but this work ebbs and flows, and is not driven by stats all the time. It’s about getting into the mix and solving issues in the community and seeing if we can alter violence in our communities. This project is not an academic exercise, it’s about saving the next generation of youth to learn what we learn each day.”