Pastor Steve Epting of Hope Community Church is encouraging faith leaders and other West Siders to work together on a spring outreach training strategy to address violence in Austin.
“We don’t want to do this in a vacuum. We want to do this, and we wanna encourage those of you to participate,” Epting said earlier this week at the 15th Police District’s monthly meeting of faith leaders.
Last year, Hope Community Church conducted six training sessions in violence prevention, held at different churches around Austin, in collaboration with the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Epting said.
“We wanted a strategy. It’s one thing to talk about (violence prevention); it’s another thing to put something into play, and it’s a whole other thing to operate it,” he said.
In the next few weeks, Hope Community Church plans to hold informational sessions with members of other churches, community-led organizations, block club organizations and police officers willing to participate in the creation of a violence prevention strategy for the 15th District.
The goal is to involve representatives from 30 to 35 organizations who will participate in a four-series workshop and discuss how to help curb violence throughout the spring and summer, Epting said.
The sessions will focus on creating a strategy to address violence in Austin by engaging community leaders and residents directly connected to what is happening in the streets.
“We wanna hear from the people in the streets, folks that maybe know a little bit more than we do … to put together a simple strategy that all of us can take hold of,” Epting said.
Participants will receive a stipend. Community members interested in taking part can email firstname.lastname@example.org@gmail.com.
“I know we do mobilizations … we do corner prayer. But what other strategies … can we do together as a church community and as a faith community? What can we do together as one?” Epting said.
Dorin “Pastor Mac” McIntyre of Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church said the initiative fits with other programs supported by faith-based organizations that are designed to address violence in Austin.
“The whole idea is to figure out how we can collaboratively go together and walk hand in hand with this stuff,” McIntyre said. “All of us are not good at everything, but some of us are very good at certain things, and that’s what we need to capitalize [on] and identify.”
Also at this month’s meeting, 15th District interim Commander Capt. Sheamus Mannion announced that as of March 1, robberies have decreased by 11% and murders are down by 7% to 8%, but aggravated assaults have increased.
“A lot of them, we realize, are domestic related, which are for the most part inside houses, inside apartments, inside residences, so we don’t necessarily see them,” Mannion said.
The 15th District is analyzing if there are any patterns and identifying the best way to reach out to residents to prevent violence, he said.
“The other one that is alarming to me is with the assaults. There’s a lot more assaults with firearms, so it seems like more people have weapons.”
Sixty-four guns were recovered and 50 arrests associated with the recovered guns were made from Jan. 1 though Feb. 28, Mannion said.
“As I always say with percentages, percentages don’t mean much if you are the one who is the victim. So we continue to look out for each other, and your outreach is invaluable to our all success,” he said.
Citywide, crime continued to rise the first two months of the year, with steep spikes in burglaries, thefts and stolen motor vehicles, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Thefts were up 61%, burglaries up 33% and motor vehicle thefts up 45%, while carjackings were down 11%, according to data analyzed by the Sun-Times.
Mannion noted that with the upcoming warm weather season, the Chicago Police Department is developing plans to handle and prevent crime during the the spring and summer months.
Also at this month’s meeting, Jai Jones, project specialist for the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities for The Chicago Community Trust, said applications for the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities are being accepted until March 11.
The fund offers rapid-response grants designed to support activities by small, neighborhood-based organizations that will build community cohesion and promote safety and peace during the summer and fall. Grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.
In other news, Liz Abunaw, owner of Forty Acres Fresh Market, talked about the importance of spreading the word about Soul City Community Market, which is held every weekend in the 5700 block of West Chicago Avenue, in the former Salvation Army building that is being renovated and will house a grocery store.
“More than anything we want to show Austin that you are valued as customers. Austin is not simply a neighborhood of great need where only philanthropy is needed; business is needed,” Abunaw said. “People in Austin spend millions of dollars every year outside the community, and so we want Austin to feel valued within their community.”
Soul City Community Market accepts Illinois EBT Link cards and participates in the Link Match program; purchases made with an Illinois Link card are matched dollar for dollar, up to $25, with additional coupons that can be used to purchase fresh products.
“If you have not [come to the market], I highly, highly, highly encourage not just you but your congregations to come as well as your block clubs,” Abunaw said. “We need help spreading the word.”