Katrina Lee, News Editor
VCU received nearly $1 million in federal grant money to kickstart gun violence prevention efforts, following a two-year increase of gun-related homicides in Richmond.
Congressman Donald McEachin (D – 4th Congressional District) presented the money on a large check to university leaders on April 14. The funding will be allocated to VCU’s new program titled RVA Gun Violence Prevention Framework.
McEachin was motivated to provide this funding to the university because of the “uniqueness” of the framework’s approach to address gun violence, which will look at the increase in gun violence as a public health problem, he said.
“There’s no question that this situation is a crisis here, as it is in many cities across the nation. And it’s incumbent upon us as lawmakers, those of us who are concerned with the issue of gun violence, to try to come up with approaches,” McEachin said.
McEachin said he will be checking in with the organization as it begins to implement its prevention efforts. The program is still in development, according to McEachin.
“Hopefully, it will be successful, but at least it’s an attempt to do something new and different to attack this age-old problem,” McEachin said. “The other thing to realize is that this has the potential to be a national approach to curb gun violence.”
The framework’s goal is to “utilize different evidence-based programs” to curb gun violence, according to VCUHealth program manager Rachelle Hunley.
Hunley was one of the individuals who started the framework and said she and her colleagues, the mayor’s office and the Richmond Police Department all played integral roles in the development of the framework.
“Being able to provide these vital resources, providing emotional support, addressing mental health concerns, and by being a positive person and resource, it is a matter of life and death,” Hunley said.
Hunley said she has personally been able to see the uptake in gun-related violence due to her position in the hospital, including an increase in youth involvement in violence and the implications of gun violence disparities that affect minority communities.
Homicides involving firearms in Richmond increased from 61 in 2020 to 76 in 2021, according to the Richmond Police Department website.
The framework will use multiple different prevention efforts including implementing hospital-based prevention, creating a shooting and homicide review commission, employing the trauma response in the health department building and working with Cure Violence, according to Hunley.
Cure Violence is a network aimed to stop the spread of violence by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control, including detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms, according to the Cure Violence website.
“It was really well thought out, and we tailored it to fit the city of Richmond. So taking all of that into consideration when putting this together, there are a bunch of different frameworks and evidence-based practices that we did include,” Hunley said.
The funding the university received will go towards part of the framework, which involves evaluating and strengthening their hospital-based prevention to gun violence, according to Hunley.
“It’s a hospital-based violence intervention program, which has been a proven strategy at reducing violence. We work directly with survivors of gunshot wounds, stabs, and assaults,” Hunley said. “We provide intensive case management starting at the bedside, an intervention to look at risky behaviors, and how a community’s involved in the situation.”
Hunley said VCU’s Bridging the Gap will also play a part in this framework, which is a program that provides services to Richmond area youth who are admitted to VCU Medical Center for intentional injuries such as gunshot wounds, stab wounds and assaults, according to its website.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to shed light on this issue. I do want to put across a message of hope because a lot of the time around this issue, it’s very negative,” Hunley said. “But because of the funding and because of the collaboration, there’s hope and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Pastor Ralph Hodge is the co-president of a community advocacy group titled Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities’, an organization dedicated to holding public officials accountable for solving Richmond’s critical problems, according to the organization’s website. The organization has focused on the issue of gun violence because of the community’s concern over the issue.
Hodge said he has read everything about the framework and said it isn’t clear what approaches the university will be implementing.
“What is the plan? Has Richmond City decided that VCU is going to end gun violence? Is VCU now responsible for public health?” Hodge said.