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St. Louis set to win $1 million grant to improve near north side

We Must Stop Killing Each Other signs are posted on the security gate of a building near where Mansur Ball-Bey was shot by police.
Linda Lockhart I St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis is nearly ready to be awarded a nearly $1 million, three-year violence prevention grant for the near north side. To receive the money, the Board of Aldermen just have to approve the measure.  

The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice totals $999,858.60 and is known as the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program. It focuses on a neighborhood with a “concentration of crime hot spots.”The proposal under consideration by the Board of Aldermen targets Carr Square and Columbus Square, which have seen four homicides in the past two years, according to police data.

“We’re looking at an entire community, not just a single individual or a single building. There’s not a lot of really robust community level strategies to reduce crime and violence,” said Carl Filler, a former health department employee who wrote the grant. He has since been hired by the Mayor’s office.

Among the requirements, selected neighborhoods have to be part of an ongoing neighborhood revitalization process, so thenear north side was the only neighborhood in the city of St. Louis that fit the grant’s criteria, Filler said.

The first year of the grant would be a planning process with public input. The proposal has three main tactics:

  • Street and lot improvement projects, to increase visibility, lighting and encourage use of space.
  • Restorative justice programs, which allow people convicted of non-violent crimes to participate in community service instead of fines or jail time. “The idea is that our criminal justice system is set up to punish individuals, not repair harm to victims,” Filler said.
  • Additional employment training and job opportunities for residents organized through an existing Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant.   

At city hall on Thursday, members of the Health & Human Services Committee raised concerns that the grant will not go to help neighborhoods that are more densely populated and that have greater incidence of violent crime. But according to Filler, the grant would fund training for city employees from the Forestry, Parks and Building Divisions to do the improvement work. 
That aspect of the grant pleases Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, Ward 2, who chairs the committee.

“In the neighborhoods that I have — which are Baden and College Hill — I’m interested in how it can help us lower our crime stats. Helping people who have been having trouble with the law or incarcerated, to get them back in motion,” she said.

An outline of the proposed project area on the Near Northside.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
An outline of the proposed project area on the Near Northside.

If approved, the project will be directed by the city’s Department of Health, St. Louis Metropolitan Police, a nonprofit called Urban Strategies and researchers from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It was initiated after conversations by the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force.

The five aldermen present at the committee meeting requested additional information from the Department of Health and voted to pass the measure on to the full Board of Aldermen. The board will likely vote on the measure next week after a second reading of the bill, and pass it to Mayor Francis Slay for his signature. Committee members said it’s very unlikely that the city will turn down a grant that’s already been awarded.

“I was brought up never to turn down money,” said Alderman Kenneth Ortmann, Ward 9.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB