Anti-gang group struggles for survival

  • By Greg Trotter
  • Medill News Service
  • October 08, 2007 @ 6:48 AM

The outreach workers of the anti-gang group CeaseFire have worked hard to save lives since the program was launched in 2000. Now they strive to save the program itself.

Some 100 of the community workers and their supporters traveled to Springfield this week to present a petition of 5,000 signatures for the restoration of the program's funding, said Tio Hardiman, CeaseFire's director of Gang Mediation and Community Organizing.

"It was a mission accomplished for what we were trying to do there," Hardiman said. "Now all we can do is wait until next week."

That's when the House and the Senate will decide whether to override Gov. Blagojevich's veto that slashed $6.2 million, about two-thirds of CeaseFire's funding, from the organization.

Since the cut, CeaseFire has laid off more than 140 workers, said Michael Swaine, training and technical assistance coordinator. Chicago area program sites have been slashed from 25 to two.

Despite demonstrations of support for CeaseFire in Chicago and Springfield, the governor's office has stood fast to its decision to veto the program's funding.

An official statement released by Justin DeJong, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, says: "… the intention has always been that the organization would then develop other sources of support to maintain their operations … in light of concerns raised in recent audit and news reports about the organization, we decided continued funding for Ceasefire was not a top state priority."

The audit cited in the statement claimed that there was no official accounting for $371, 000 in CeaseFire funds. Gary Slutkin, executive director of CeaseFire, responded that this was due to the rapid expansion of the program and the urgent nature of their outreach work.

When potentially violent situations presented themselves, CeaseFire would sometimes have to quickly disburse funds to place their specialty unit of "violence interrupters" in certain locations to diffuse a situation, Slutkin said. Some situations would call for CeaseFire to respond to urgent situations before establishing official contracts with community partners.

"This was not fur coats or trips to Vegas," said Hardiman, referring to the audit. "This was all correctable."

The funding cut shrank the number of "violence interrupters" from 30 to 15, Hardiman said.

As the battle for CeaseFire's funding goes before the House and Senate floor next week, the grassroots organization is seeking help from its powerful allies. Among the signatures on the petition was one belonging to Mayor Daley, Hardiman noted.

"We really need the government to be invested in decreasing violence on the streets to keep this program going," Swaine said.