CENTRAL WEST END – For the past year, an innovative program designed to provide young victims of violence and their families with help ranging from counseling to food and job assistance has been ignored or rejected by the vast majority of people it’s designed to serve.
Called Project LOV — Life Outside of Violence — the project provides immediate “mentors” for anyone under age 24 who has been the victim of a gunshot, stabbing, or blunt force trauma and has come to the emergency rooms of the area’s designated Level One trauma centers — Barnes-Jewish, Children’s, Cardinal Glennon or St. Louis University hospitals. The mentor arrives almost as soon as the young person is admitted, and offers a range of free services ranging from psychological and violence counseling to assistance in finding jobs and purchasing food.
Yet despite the success the program has achieved in its 12 months of operation, almost 85 percent of the victims and their families refuse to take part. Since August 2018, mentors have visited with all 550 young violence victims who have come into one of the four hospitals. Of those, only 90 have agreed to take advantage of its services and counseling.
Funded by a three-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, the St. Louis Area Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program draws on the resources of Washington University, St. Louis University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis as well as the four hospitals.
Kateri Chapman-Kramer, the project coordinator, works out of Washington University’s Institute for Public Health and said the story of one young boy who was shot in his own apartment stuck with her.
“There was one child who came in, suffering from PTSD. One of our first steps was to provide access to resources they didn’t have in their home, including food, furniture, utility assistance,” Chapman-Kramer said. “The child was afraid going back into that home, where that incident occurred, that it was going to happen again. Or hearing a loud sound outside that triggers them back to the beginning of the gunshot incident.”
The family agreed to take part in the program, which can provide assistance and counselling, in the home, for anywhere from six months to one year.
“We were able to connect them with community resources just to have a safe home environment. Since all that’s been in place, the child’s anxiety symptoms have decreased, they say they feel safe, they’re able to be in their home without that constant fear.”
Appearing on “The Jaco Report,” Chapman-Kramer said the kinds of material and psychological resources the LOV Program provided were desperately needed by victims and families affected by the riding tide of St. Louis gun violence claiming young people as victims.
“A lot of them suffer from PTSD. So our counseling helps them cope, with a safety plan,” she said. “Among the older individuals, the biggest need is employment. A lot of individuals participate in high-risk illegal activity because it’s easier to earn a large amount of money to provide for your family.”
Possibly because of the involvement in drugs or other illegal activity, innate suspicion of outsiders, or hopelessness, only about 15 percent of the families approached initially by the mentors in hospitals agree to take part.
“We talk to a lot of kids who say they don’t think they’ll make it to 21, so what’s the point? ‘I’m not going to make it anyway, I don’t have much to live for, so what’s the point?’” Chapman-Kramer said. “Imagine how that lack of self-worth transfers not just to them, but to all the other people who might be affected.”
Chapman-Kramer said the violence and the victims who refused outside help were all tied together, created by the collapse of entire neighborhoods and the withdrawal of basic services, ranging from food availability and medical care to trash collection and police protection.
“My personal opinion is it’s exactly connected to generational and historical racism and segregation,” she said, “especially if we’re talking about the city of St Louis and the lack of responsiveness.”
Anyone who wants to know more about Project LOV and the services it offers to young victims of violence and their families can call 314-327-6697, or email the program at ProjectLOV@wustl.edu.