Restoring the Village

Submitted By

Clint Sperber
Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County, Florida
January 12, 2015

Youth and gang violence is a significant issue that impacts many communities across the United States, including Ft. Pierce’s Lincoln Park Neighborhood. Many different groups have come together such as law enforcement, public health, faith leaders, residents and other stakeholders to address the issue. They have agreed to use a public health approach of focusing on the root causes of gang life – poverty, education attainment, and unemployment to reduce the violence.

As part of the public health approach, one initiative they are working on is assuring widespread community adoption of the problem by conducting focus groups and administering surveys to youth, including gang members. The Comprehensive Gang Model (CGM) was selected to address the problem. The model comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and focuses on prevention by engaging communities, providing interventions and support to gang-involved youth and families, and not just suppression.

Last summer, a local state representative hosted a town hall meeting to address a rash of homicides that had occurred in the northwest part of St. Lucie County. There were over 800 people in attendance. The community voiced concerns about social and environmental issues plaguing the community including lack of jobs, parent involvement, youth activities, mentoring, and health inequities. As a result of the complex problems identified, a select group of leaders were tasked to develop a comprehensive response to address the violence. Simultaneously, each group focused on their own initiative such as collecting and analyzing socioeconomic, law enforcement, and health data; faith-based led street clean-ups and programs to address poverty. The health department collected data on various inequities in the Lincoln Park neighborhood including social determinants, physical environment, health, and crime. This movement was coined "Restoring the Village" by the state representative.

Lincoln Park is a 2.5 square-mile residential area in northwest Fort Pierce. Several factors put Lincoln Park community ‘at-risk’ for violence including a long history of poverty (per capita income $9,555); low educational attainment (over 40% lacking high school diploma); and access to resources like health insurance (over30% without health insurance). By addressing these and other socioeconomic factors, the community will have the largest impact to improve the overall health of Lincoln Park, the City of Ft. Pierce and St. Lucie County.

An assistant US attorney that lived and worked in St. Lucie became an integral part of the solution. The attorney was familiar with the violence, but not engaged in the ongoing efforts to address it. She presented a gang violence reduction model and training opportunity to the state representative and police chief. The state representative and police chief believed a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of violence was needed and requested the attorney to submit an application to attend training on the Comprehensive Gang Model in Dallas, Texas. Ft. Pierce was one of ten cities across the country invited to attend the 3-day training in Dallas.

A local community coalition called “the Roundtable” supported the attendance of a leadership task force with the police chief, chief probation officer, school superintendent, health department deputy administrator, the assistant U.S. attorney and executive director of the Roundtable. St. Lucie has a tradition of successful community collaboration to address large social issues like HIV/AIDS. The Roundtable has been in existence for 15 years and developed a comprehensive strategy centered on a “risk-focused” prevention model, which addresses known risk factors that exist in the community. This plan serves as the foundation of all planning efforts, including anti-gang violence. We would not be in a position to implement the Comprehensive Gang Model without their support. The Roundtable’s approval was imperative because they are the only organization in the county that consists of executive level leaders from the health department, school system, law enforcement, government, social service agencies, and others who, together, set a county-wide agenda to make a sustainable difference in the lives of children. A few additional Roundtable accomplishments include developing a Get Real About AIDS curriculum approved by the school district; reducing school expulsions by over 88 percent; improving reading and math proficiency rates; reducing use of alcohol by youth; reducing teen births, and becoming the first Kids at Hope community in the nation in 2010.

Implementation of the CGM has not started. The Roundtable, and its workgroups, are in the process of hiring a full-time project coordinator and completing a report which will include the analyzed quantitative data and hundreds of surveys administered to elected officials, faith leaders, residents, youth, and gang members. The report will be complete in February 2015 and viewable on the Roundtable’s web site.

An interim project coordinator was appointed until permanent staff is hired in January 2015. Fort Pierce Police Department was awarded a $203,000 grant from OJJDP and St. Lucie’s Board of County Commissioners awarded $40,000 to implement the model. Funding will be used to hire a project coordinator (January 2015), outreach workers who will be contracted through the health department (March 2015), and a researcher to evaluate the data and associated CGM programs.

Amidst all of the issues with violence in Fort Pierce’s Lincoln Park community – Allegany Franciscan Ministries a non-profit Catholic-based organization was also working on a new strategy. In late 2013, Allegany developed a new strategic enterprise called the “Common Good Initiative” designed to mobilize communities towards better health and wellness through community engagement with a long-term commitment of resources and increased collaboration of citizens and stakeholders. After an extensive and thoughtful discernment process, one community in each of Allegany’s three regions was chosen and the Palm Beach Region selected the Lincoln Park community. Allegany has a placed-based funding commitment of 4.2 million over five to seven years for the Lincoln Park community.

In hindsight, one of the biggest challenges was not having a project director from the beginning. Much of the behind the scenes work was led by the police chief and health department deputy administrator. If funding was available, a project director and research partner to administer and evaluate the surveys would have been in place at the onset. Lastly, identifying a grass-roots committee from Lincoln Park was imperative. The members are advocates for positive change and will assist in making the community a safer place to live, work and play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *