St. Louis doubles support for Better Family Life violence prevention program
St. Louis is increasing its funding for a local agency’s initiative to shift the culture of St. Louis’s most dangerous blocks away from violence.
Better Family Life is getting a total of $55,000 from the city’s public safety fund for its Neighborhood Alliance program, which puts outreach specialists and case managers in the neighborhoods to connect families to resources and teach conflict resolution.
“Some of the violence plaguing some of our neighborhoods is caused by drugs and guns. But a lot of it is the spur of the moment disputes that escalate to gunfire,” Mayor Francis Slay said at a news conference announcing the funding Thursday.
Better Family Life will be teaching individuals how to respond to disputes in more peaceful ways to reduce tragedies like the recent death of 6-year-old Marcus Johnson.
“We do very grass root and very direct discussions where we challenge individuals to raise their tolerance level,” explained James Clark of Better Family Life. “I mean we’ve had individuals be shot and killed for something as insignificant as an eye movement.”
According to Clark, the total cost of the program is about $500,000. Noting that crime is expected to pick up this summer, he said he hopes St. Louis businesses can help fund the rest.
“We have got to do what is necessary to stem this tide (of gun violence). And the best and most effective way to do it, St. Louis, is to be active in our most challenged neighborhoods with neighborhood outreach and direct individual and family engagement,” said Clark.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said that gun violence and the murder rate have gone down in the parts of the city where Better Family Life has implemented the program.
“We know that it works. We’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in other cities where it’s worked — Baltimore’s cease-fire program, Chicago’s cease-fire program,” said Dotson. “This is where we should be focusing our attention and where it should be, not incarceration.”
According to Better Family Life, the neighborhood blocks targeted by its Neighborhood Alliance Model have seen at least a 30 percent drop in gun crime and a 25 percent drop in homicides since the agency started the program two years ago.
The blocks are in the Penrose, Hamilton Heights and Academy neighborhoods.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.