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Police tape

Police tape marks the scene of an early morning shooting which claimed the life of one man and injured another outside a 7-Eleven convenience store Madison's south side at the beginning of August. Three agencies have submitted applications to run peer support programs with the intent of reducing violence in the city. 

Three agencies have responded to Madison's request for a long-term peer support plan that would help those affected by violence and individuals who are released from incarceration.

The request for proposals aims to reduce violence and calls for two programs: one to support people who have been affected by, or are caught up in violence, and a second aimed at helping those returning to the community after incarceration.

Both programs involve peer support counseling, which would involve people trained to provide support to those involved in incidents of violence. Preferably, the trained peer support specialists would have similar life experiences.

Madison-area Urban Ministry, Nehemiah Community Development Corporation and Zion City International Church Ministries all responded with plans to address recidivism while only Nehemiah responded with a crisis response plan to prevent and reduce violence.

The agency responses come on the heels of several months of violence, an increase in shots fired incidents and multiple homicides. Through the end of September, there were 168 shots fired incidents in Madison in 2017, a 90 percent increase over 2016, according to the Madison Police Department. There have been 11 homicides in Madison this year, breaking a record of 10 set in 2008.

About a year ago, the City Council approved $400,000 in the 2017 budget to fund the first steps of a 15-point violence reduction plan put forward by the Focused Interruption Coalition, a grassroots group made up of community and faith leaders. Community Development Director Jim O’Keefe said the funding would be evenly divided between violence prevention and recidivism work.

The Community Services Committee will meet Wednesday to discuss its recommendations for peer support funding. O’Keefe said the city hopes to have contracts in place by next month.

Under Nehemiah’s crisis response proposal, FIC’s peer support specialists would respond to violent incidents, provide trauma-informed care to deter effects of trauma and aim to reduce violence in the city.

In addition to FIC, Nehemiah would also partner with Anesis Therapy Center and the Urban League of Greater Madison. The program has an existing relationship with UW Hospital & Clinics and is working to develop a formal referral process when a victim of violence is seen in the emergency room.

“What we’ve really been able to do is change the community’s mind and change the perspective from law enforcement to UW Hospital to show we can all work together,” FIC executive director Anthony Cooper said during a presentation to the Community Services Committee Monday.

Participants would receive peer counseling and case management in addition to help with housing, transportation, access to AODA and mental health services and priority entry into job skills training and placement programs.

The program would operate a 24/7 hotline with two dispatchers on call to respond to situations. Each peer support specialist would maintain a caseload of 10 to 15 participants, and services would be provided for no less than six months.

FIC member Aaron Davis emphasized that the lived experiences of the coalition’s members that give the program credibility and help create trust in the community.

“We are able to maneuver between two entities … and build some bridges where individuals can feel more comfortable with people who they know have that street credibility,” Davis said.

Reducing recidivism

Nehemiah’s proposal to reduce recidivism also uses support specialists to increase the number of individuals that successfully transition back into the community from jail or prison.

“When we talk about support and wraparound services we’re talking about housing, we're talking about advocating, we’re talking about mentoring, we’re talking about employment,” said Rev. Alex Gee, Nehemiah's founder.

Under the proposal, FIC would provide the re-entry peer support services and Nehemiah would supply the additional wraparound services that could include assistance finding housing, transportation help, counseling to address issues like trauma, anger management and substance use disorders; probation or parole peer mentoring, one-on-one case management, job training and placement, and advocacy.

Madison-area Urban Ministry also highlighted the incarceration experiences of its members as a benefit to its proposal, which aims to offer a more complete approach to reentry.

“We believe that our proposal builds a more holistic reentry model for Madison, providing the opportunity to expand our current service rates to individuals returning from prison and providing expanded support services to people coming out of jail,” MUM director Linda Ketcham said.

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Under MUM’s proposal, participants would have access to community engagement opportunities, peer support and mentoring, employment and housing opportunities and mental health and AODA support.

Ketcham said the most innovative element to MUM’s proposal is the urban agriculture employment and vocational training program through the FAIR Initiative. The program would train up to five program participants in literacy and cultural competency skills and local food systems in addition to urban agriculture and entrepreneurial training. Participants would earn $13.01 per hour for the training.

Other employment learning opportunities could be available through FoodShare Employment Training, the Employment and Training Association and MUM’s Just Bakery vocational training program.

Zion City International Church Ministries proposed a program called Renewal After Prison, which is meant to teach skills to make the transition from incarceration successful and to stabilize an individual's life through support services.

Like Nehemiah and MUM, Zion values the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated people leading reentry programs. James Morgan, a leader with Zion, was incarcerated for over 24 years and said he experienced the same challenges that the men and women leaving incarceration today face.

“It’s a difficult process,” Morgan said. “Sometimes you get to the point where you just want to give up.”

Under the program, participants would meet in one of four groups, three time per week for one year and will meet with a case manager until stable. The four groups serve as phases and include the initial transition, integration, family reunification and implementation. After a year, participants who are interested can become a peer support specialist.

“Reentry is not a two-month, six-month, seven-month, year program,” Morgan said. “It is a lifelong process.”

Zion is also partnering with Anesis Therapy to provide intensive training to peer specialists and case managers, reflective supervision for peer specialists and support groups for clients referred by the program.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.