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Millions spent on Philly anti-violence programs - but how? | Helen Ubiñas

As the city evaluates its antiviolence programs, the body count rises.

Shondell Revell poses for a photo in his office on the tenth floor of the Philadelphia Municipal Building located in Center City.
Shondell Revell poses for a photo in his office on the tenth floor of the Philadelphia Municipal Building located in Center City.Read moreKAIT MOORE / Staff Photographer

In June, I wrote about the need to hold Philadelphia's well-meaning but rarely scrutinized anti-violence programs accountable.

Since then, 100 people have been killed in the city. Philadelphia has lost 249 people to homicide so far this year; at least 999 have been shot, according to the latest figures from the Police Department.

[Explore our data on Philadelphia shooting victims]

Those victims include a 3-year-old who is fighting for his life after his 6-year-old brother fired a bullet into his head Saturday with a gun he found in the house, and a 15-year-old who was driven to the hospital by his mother Monday night after he was shot in a hand and knee. Between Friday and Monday, police reported 24 shooting victims in the city.

Something isn't right out there — and that includes some of the city's anti-violence programs, which have pocketed about $48 million in city, federal, and state funding to do the kind of preventative outreach that doesn't seem to be preventing much.

But how is that money being used?

The answer is: we don't know. How many people have these programs actually reached? How many high-risk teens did they connect with, and in what way? Did they provide students with mediation, mentoring, job opportunities? Have they done what they promised — what they're collecting fat checks for?

We should be absolutely clear where our money is going, because $13 million comes straight from the city.

If that sounds like a condemnation of the people leading the current evaluation at the newly formed Office of Violence Prevention, or of this administration, it's not.

I'm frustrated and disgusted at accountability that is years and administrations overdue.

After I first wrote about anti-violence programs' needing to prove their worth, a few ghosts from Philly's CYA past rattled their chains to say that lots of research has been done over the years to determine which programs work.

Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't. But Shondell Revell, the executive director of the violence prevention office, insists this kind of deep-dive accounting has never been done.

This I know for sure:

Violence consumes too many of our neighborhoods, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm in no mood to give anyone credit for some dusty research or report that hasn't translated in making our streets feel any safer.

Or if I'm more than a little impatient for this evaluation to be completed.

No sooner had I written that 999 people had been shot in the city so far in 2017 than Scott Charles, Temple University Hospital's trauma outreach coordinator, tweeted, "Sadly, I can report that we're over 1,000 shootings now."

By the time you read this, that number will be higher.

In the name of transparency, I pushed for a list of anti-violence programs getting funding, though the office is continuing to collect more data, and numbers are bound to change before it wraps up the evaluation next summer. The city initially identified $60 million in federal, state, and city funding spent across 10 departments yearly on direct, community-based prevention programs focused on gun violence. The amount is lower now, as the office digs deeper into the programs.

One of the office's next steps is to reach out to residents for their input. Run, don't walk, to those meetings, people. And if you can't get there, call Revell's office and tell him what you think is working and isn't.

Much of the funding goes to larger city agencies — the Department of Human Services, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services,  Office of Criminal Justice — which I suppose makes sense, since they have the infrastructure to run multiple programs. But they also have the ability to make themselves look good on paper.

There are smaller programs and less-connected people who are doing solid grassroots work with little or no support. A good place to start is with the families of murder victims.

While I was writing this column, I received an all too familiar email from the Police Department. It contained a short, chilling message: "30 YEAR MALE VICTIM WAS SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES TO THE HEAD AND TORSO…PRONOUNCED ON SCENE…NO ARREST…NO WEAPON RECOVERED."

We don't have any more time, or money, to waste.