CeaseFire shut down in 2 communities

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City funding for the anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois has run out, putting employees out of work in two gang-infested communities on the South and West sides.

The one-year, $1 million contract was the first of its kind when it was forged last summer as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy looked for unorthodox solutions as the number of homicides last year exceeded 500 for the first time in four years. The group operates in several other communities across the city primarily through state funding and will continue that work.

CeaseFire, which tries to mediate gang conflicts to prevent retaliatory violence, used the money to hire 24 employees and place them in North Lawndale on the West Side and Woodlawn on the South Side, two communities hit especially hard by violence.

The Rev. Robin Hood, program manager for the North Lawndale office, said Friday that he was frustrated about the closing, saying gang conflicts in the community have intensified during CeaseFire’s absence. Hood was forced to lay off his workers Sept. 1.

“This really should have been a two-year contract so that you can keep having constant contact with these high-risk individuals,” Hood said.

The partnership was an unlikely one because Chicago police officers have been reluctant to work with a group composed primarily of convicted felons. McCarthy has even chided CeaseFire publicly for not having its violence “interrupters” and outreach workers work closer with police. But CeaseFire has long contended it risks losing credibility with gang members if its employees work too closely with officers.

The yearlong pilot program was administered through the Chicago Department of Public Health, a nod to the group’s philosophical underpinnings that violence is a public health epidemic. The contract was originally set to expire August 9. But because there was money left over after the contract expired, CeaseFire continued operating through August, said Brian Richardson, a spokesman for the public health department.

He said the city may allocate money for CeaseFire when budget talks for 2014 begin next month.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, which runs the group, decided not to renew the contract of its former director, Tio Hardiman, after he was arrested on domestic violence charges earlier this year. Those charges have since been dropped, and Hardiman is now running for governor.

By Jeremy Gorner

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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