Birmingham City Council

Birmingham will fund a ‘violence intervention’ program. Can it get to the heart of the problem?

Supporters of a hospital-based violence intervention program persuaded the Birmingham City Council to approve funding for their program. (Source: Council’s Facebook livestream.)

Michelle Farley remembers Rico. He was a member of the Youth Action Committee at One Roof, the Birmingham homelessness services organization where Farley serves as executive director.

In 2019, Rico was shot, according to Farley, and remained hospitalized for weeks. He was then released, she said, “with no more resources for conflict resolution or violence prevention than when he entered.”

Just a few weeks later, Rico was shot for a second time. He didn’t make it.

On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council approved a pilot program to provide services to those impacted by gun violence in the Magic City.

Through the program, staffers with the Offender Alumni Association will administer case management and wraparound services for victims of gun violence treated at UAB Hospital.

The program, according to supporters such as One Roof’s Farley, may help to curb the cycle of violence that has gripped Birmingham in recent years.

One councilor, J.T. Moore, chose to abstain from Tuesday’s vote on the more than $2 million in funding for the program, expressing concern that the program wasn’t directly addressing the most critical need at hand – reducing gun violence in Birmingham as soon as possible.

Moore asked a representative of OAA to clarify the eligibility requirement for the program.

“The eligibility to enroll in this requirement is number one that you be shot, correct?”  Moore asked. A representative nodded yes.

“I think that’s the challenging part for me,” Moore responded. “We’ve had a lot of different shootings that have taken place in our city. … With this, I know that it will provide some type of intervention for the retaliation piece, but it’s not necessarily intervening in gun violence in general.”

Moore said that while programs like this one can help develop trust after gun violence occurs, it does little to develop trust in the moments before the gun fires.

“How are we developing the trust before they get here?” Moore asked.

Councilor Carol Clarke said that the money being used for the program, which came through the American Rescue Plan Act, may be limited in scope to funding evidence-based strategies to reduce violence. Hospital-linked violence reduction programs like this one, she said, fit that bill.

“This doesn’t deal with the whole range of causes of gun violence,” Clarke said. Instead, the program will focus on a specific opportunity that she said arises when an individual finds themselves a victim of gun violence.

“It’s being able to connect with them in that vulnerable, teachable moment,” Clarke said.

OAA’s case management will be supported by services offered through Impact Family Counseling and 2nd Chance Lifesavers, according to documents provided to councilors. Those services are set to include counseling, parenting and workforce development, and mentorship programming.

These services will be offered to any gun violence victim identified through UAB who chooses to accept them, the agency said.

For her part, Farley hopes survivors of gun violence take the city up on the offer. Their fate, she hopes, will be better than Rico’s.

“The targeted assistance proposed by HVIP would mean that other young fathers would have the chance to build a life,” Farley wrote in support of the program. “A life free from the cycle of gun violence, retaliation, imprisonment, and then death… a life Rico never had.”

Lee Hedgepeth is an investigative journalist based in Birmingham. He is the author of Tread by Lee, a newsletter of Southern journalism.