BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Homicide is the leading cause of death for Birmingham Black men ages 15 to 40, according to Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson.
The county health department is working to start a community-based program to help get gunshot victims at the hospital out of those violent situations.
They’re looking to use money from the American Rescue Plan to help the health department start this program. This is just one path toward solving what Mayor Randall Woodfin calls a public health crisis — working to get support for victims to help break the cycle of violence.
On Wednesday, the city’s committee of the whole held a meeting where council talked about how to divvy up $35 million of the $141 million the city was promised from the American Rescue Plan. In May, Birmingham got the first half of those funds.
Now, Wilson is asking council for $2.1 million of those funds toward a hospital-linked violence intervention program to help curb the cycle of violence in the Magic City.
“It’s a program that really provides people with a lot of support after they’ve suffered a gunshot wound to get their lives back on track,” Wilson said. “It is a public health issue, and we are just seeking some way to at least start intervening. We don’t pretend that this is the end all, but it’s a place to start.”
According to Wilson, last year alone, UAB treated 666 gunshot wounds. The health department wants to do more to help at the hospital.
“It’s an opportune time to engage with them to talk about changing the course of their life and lowering the risk of them suffering an additional gunshot injury or lower the risk of them retaliating and perpetuating the cycle of violence in the community,” Wilson said.
Public Safety Chair LaTonya Tate is receptive of the idea. She also wants to help bring the perpetrator and victim together after the event to restore the peace.
“Talk about why instead of criminalizing them and placing them into jail, they bring them together to make sure they mediate the victim and the person that committed the crime to begin the healing process,” Tate said.
The program would have to start small. Right now, the health department plans to fully fund the first year then expand the program with this support from the city’s funds.
“We want to intervene in that person’s life and change the trajectory of their life and save their life,” Wilson said
This is only one part of the $35 million the city is looking to approve at its next meeting on Tuesday. The rest of it would go toward things like buying out vacation time for first responders who have been overworked from the pandemic and repairs and security at facilities for the World Games.
Wilson said the idea for the program came from other cities that have used the Healthcare Alliance for Violence Intervention (HAVI). This program will help victims in violent situations finish education, find a job and relocate if needed.
The Jefferson County Department of Health is looking to partner with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham for organizations to submit grant proposals then choose a department to official run the hospital-linked violence intervention program.
After that, Wilson said two to three community-based violence intervention specialists would be hired that could handle a caseload of 15 to 20 people at a time, expanding the program in the second and third years with the city’s funding.