Our Chicago: Street outreach workers face danger, violence, study says

ByKay Cesinger via WLS logo
Sunday, July 24, 2022
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Street outreach workers often face Chicago shootings and gun violence, a Northwestern University and SUNY Albany study found.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- They aim to intervene and stop violence in Chicago, but street outreach workers often face gun violence themselves. A recent study by Northwestern University and SUNY Albany polled 181 people from 15 organizations in the city.

Here's what they found: 60% percent of violence intervention workers said they have witnessed an attempted shooting, 32% saw someone get shot, 20% have been shot at and 2% have been shot and injured on the job.

Damien Morris is the Senior Director of Violence Prevention at Breakthrough Urban Ministries. He said street outreach workers are, adding that "the men and women who have local experience, lived experience, they are trustworthy, they are credible and they are committed to seeing a better community."

The study's co-lead was Andrew Papachristos. He is a sociology professor at Northwestern University. He is also director of the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network Initiative.

"Back in 2016 there was another spike in violence in Chicago. And after that outreach organizations in the city were really trying to revamp and rebuild efforts to coordinate. To make sure that best practices were instilled, that training was happening. And we actually couldn't answer some very basic questions about the workforce," he said. "And so along with our team at SUNY Albany we partnered with outreach professionals in the city and built an extensive survey that we wanted to know. Questions about supervision, about experiences."

Our Chicago: Part 2

As for the study's findings, Morris said "I wasn't surprised but that speaks to the importance of us really acknowledging the street outreach worker as a first responder. So put them in the same category as a police officer as well as a firefighter. because when they operate and when they're going to these scenes they do not have a badge, they do not have a gun."

So what's next?

"The study of outreach workers themselves," said Papachristos. "We don't know what happens to outreach workers over time.These are dedicated individuals who love their city, love their community, who are literally putting their lives on the line and engaging in lots of spaces. And we don't know what careers they have. Most of them are fulltime employed as outreach workers. But where do you go from there? And by the way, how long can you sustain this level of exposure to violence and still remain healthy yourself. And so, the data we collected is truly a first. We're not going to just collect it over time in Chicago but we're going to look at other cities."