An independent evaluation has found that a much-debated city program that gives community groups grants to help reduce gun violence is mostly working and deserves to continue, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced on June 29. 

The Community Expansion Grant Program, which launched in late 2021 amid record deadly gun violence that began rocking the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, awarded $13.5 million in funding to 31 grassroots organizations. Their mission was to use a range of crime-prevention strategies to reach those most affected by the violence: African American and Latino men between the ages of 16 and 34. The organizations’ approaches to reducing violence included trauma-informed healing, restorative practices, creating safe havens, and providing mentorships.

While three organizations failed to meet their stated goals, the other 28 achieved them during the program’s pilot year, which ended this spring, according to Equal Measure, a Philadelphia-based organization that specializes in technical assistance and program design. 

“Overall, the evaluation showed a Year 1 pilot that successfully implemented an innovative approach to funding a constellation of programs proximate to the communities and individuals most likely to be impacted by violence – many historically and currently underfunded and overlooked,” the evaluators wrote.

The report comes on the heels of an investigative news report that found some grantees were struggling to meet their mandates, and angry pushback against that report from those grantees and their supporters. Several dropped out of the program. 

Of the 28 community groups that reached their goals, 24 have received renewal agreements to continue their intervention work when the program resumes later this year, said city officials, who added that new grantee organizations will be announced later this summer. Beyond this new cycle, it is unclear whether the city’s next mayor will continue to support the initiative.

The independent evaluation found that the program served 4,831 participants and that most of the grantees reached their intended audience, with 72 percent being Black men and 22 percent being Latino men. The evaluators surveyed 439 participants from 26 organizations, and found that three-quarters said that the programs “made them feel safer in the community.” Overall, the report recommends that the city better support the organizations and their participants.

Recommendations to the city include to:

  • Invest funding and energy into building out the program’s infrastructure.
  • Increase funding to organizations that specialize in immediate interventions such as conflict resolution and mediation services.
  • Provide more training and skill-building activities for frontline workers.
  • Offer multiyear grants to build in time for planning, allow grantees to experience and demonstrate progress, and create avenues to sustainability.
  • Work with local media to highlight the program’s work.
  • Support self-care and wellness strategies for workers to cope with stress and secondary trauma. 

Kenney, whose administration has spent more than $155 million on anti-violence initiatives in recent years, praised the report’s findings. “I am proud of what this pilot program achieved right out of the gate,” he said. “There have been some bumps, but we expected that in a program that is new and being tested.”