Though residents are leading transformation across Chicago, in many communities, individuals and families are affected by violence everyday, and the long-term impact is profound. 

Breakthrough’s Violence Prevention team seeks to reduce violence and its impact so residents in East Garfield Park are safe, healthy, and free to reach their full potential. The team is part of Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), a city-wide collaboration of community-based outreach organizations.

As violence heightens during the summer months, Breakthrough’s Violence Prevention team is responding with an understanding of the burden traumatic events put on our neighbors and an effort to restore dignity and respect. 

Victim Advocates provide trauma-informed services 

Victim Advocates (VAs) serve a critical role on the Violence Prevention team. In partnership with case managers and outreach workers, they provide comprehensive trauma-informed services to individuals who have been victims of violence and their families. 

Last May, the Mayor’s Office of Violence Reduction and the Chicago Department of Public Health awarded $1.5 million toward eight community-based victim services. Breakthrough was one of the recipients. 

As the Violence Prevention team quickly responds to incidents in East Garfield Park, VAs focus on providing emotional support and offering victim services. They visit crime scenes and victims’ homes and accompany families to hospitals, medical examiner’s offices, and funeral homes.

“They are a response team, but it goes deeper than that,” says Damien Morris, Senior Director of Violence Prevention. “They come from a stance of compassion. They provide comfort, resources, and their listening ear.” 

Short-term support follows within days and weeks of an incident. This may include hospital visits, home visits, assistance with transportation to medical appointments, and taking safety precautions.  

A continuation of this support is offered on a recurring basis for up to six months if desired.

VAs refer families to an array of services including mental health services, benefits and eligibility enrollment, trauma-informed services for young children and youth, housing assistance, food assistance, funeral planning, transportation to medical appointments, and employment. VAs also support families in interacting with the Chicago Police Department and applying for victim compensation.

These practical supports are guided by key principles: an understanding of the prevalence of trauma and its effects, resisting re-traumatization, and supporting the resilience of individuals.

Collaboration is key in violence reduction effort

As the team responds to incidents in the community, Breakthrough is hopeful in the effectiveness of violence prevention work. Memorial Day weekend, which is considered the start of the summer season, saw a noteworthy decline in shootings compared with recent years

Damien says Victim Advocates have been quick to connect with victims and their families to provide trauma-informed services. The communication between VAs, outreach workers, and other members of the Violence Prevention team has been strong and the support for each other has helped them do their job well. 

“The overall strategy is everybody communicating and collaborating in these violence reduction efforts,” he says. 

Throughout the summer, Breakthrough is also hosting pop-up events and block parties, providing resources to the community, and offering opportunities for youth engagement.

“As members of the local community, we are elated to see our friends and neighbors thrive, but we also mourn with them when lives are affected by violence,” says Yolanda Fields, Executive Director of Breakthrough. “Through deep collaboration and an understanding of trauma, we are able to help individuals heal and work together toward the revitalization of East Garfield Park.”