MUSC awarded $1M grant for community violence prevention program

February 09, 2022
group photo of four men standing on the corner in front of public housing
From left, Keith Smalls, Donnie Singleton and Ronald Dickerson, Ph.D., of the MUSC Turning the Tide program, and William Cameron of YAP, in Charleston's Westside neighborhood, just blocks from the MUSC campus. Photo by Sarah Pack

Homicides in the City of Charleston doubled from 2019 to 2020. 

MUSC Health’s Adult and Pediatric Level 1 Trauma Centers in Charleston saw a 30% increase in 2020 in firearm assaults and injuries.

And the numbers have only continued to rise, said Ashley Hink, M.D., a trauma surgeon who also serves as medical director of MUSC’s Turning the Tide Violence Intervention Program.

Turning the Tide is a hospital-based program that aims to reduce the odds of revictimization and improve physical, social and mental health outcomes after a young person is shot. But there are many more young people at risk than are treated at the Trauma Center, said Hink and Christa Green, injury prevention coordinator for pediatric trauma with MUSC Children’s Health.

“MUSC and our team, we understand that we can’t just tackle this from within the health care system,” Green said. “There is a very significant portion of this work that has to be community-based and community-driven.”

To that end, Hink led an effort that resulted in MUSC being awarded a three-year, almost $1 million grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice.

“MUSC and our team, we understand that we can’t just tackle this from within the health care system.
There is a very significant portion of this work that has to be community-based and community-driven.”

Christa Green
injury prevention coordinator

“To get this award, you had to demonstrate need,” Hink said. MUSC worked with the Charleston and North Charleston police departments to gather data and used its own data to demonstrate an ample need here, she said. She noted that MUSC Health evaluated more than 260 gunshot wounds in 2020. Half of the victims were under age 25.

The grant will enable MUSC to partner with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) Inc., which has a successful 46-year history working with the highest risk young people and families, to implement Lowcountry Rising Above Violence. This community violence intervention program will offer wraparound services to young people ages 14 to 25 in the cities of Charleston and North Charleston who have been identified as at highest risk by schools, community groups, the juvenile justice system or other partners.

“These are the individuals who are causing those statistics to go up – those individuals who are carrying guns, creating crime situations,” said William Cameron, a YAP community relations/program development specialist in the Upstate who is helping to get the Charleston program started.

Lowcountry Rising Above Violence will also include violence interruption, which seeks to mediate conflicts that might otherwise erupt in violence and to prevent retaliation.

Medical Director   Ashley Hink, M.D., MPH   Assistant Professor of Acute Care Surgery 
Dr. Ashley Hink

Hink said the program will focus on two peninsular neighborhoods – the Eastside and the Westside – and the crossover that happens between those neighborhoods and North Charleston.

“For community violence intervention programs to work, they have to be very targeted to high-risk neighborhoods and schools, really at the block level,” Hink explained.

A single person can’t effectively work across multiple far-flung neighborhoods – it wouldn’t be effective to expect someone to work on the peninsula in addition to Summerville, West Ashley and James Island, for example. Instead, the YAP team members will focus on developing deep, meaningful relationships in the targeted neighborhoods.

“The key to all this working is relationships,” Cameron said.

Hink pointed to St. Louis as an example of a midsize city that has bucked the national trend of increased homicides. St. Louis, which deployed violence interrupters in a program similar to YAP’s, saw a 25% decrease in homicides in 2021. Similarly, Dallas, which has employed a strategy that includes micro-targeted policing, community outreach and violence interrupters from YAP, saw a 13% decrease in homicides in 2021.

“YAP has this philosophy: Do for; do with; and cheer on."

William Cameron
Youth Advocate Programs

Cameron has been making regular trips to Charleston since August to begin developing relationships with community and church members, schools and law enforcement officers who serve the Eastside and Westside neighborhoods.

Though he’s getting the program off the ground, he won’t be the one running it. The team members will come from and be part of the communities. Possibly the most important step will be the upcoming hiring of the site supervisor, who will oversee the Charleston program.

From there, the program will add credible messengers – people hired from the community who receive ongoing training in first aid; crisis intervention; and healthy relationships, communication and conflict resolution in order to provide intensive and tailored services. The credible messengers will serve as connections to resources that include help for mental health, job training, education, housing, parenting skills and more. This is similar to the hospital-based violence intervention program model that the MUSC Turning the Tide program uses, but with the emphasis on addressing these needs before violence occurs.

The credible messengers work “nontraditional hours,” Cameron said, to coincide with when young people are out and about in the community. They will also work as violence interrupters, springing into action when a shooting or other violence occurs, to calm the situation and hopefully prevent retaliatory action. 

The funding will also allow MUSC to add another position to its Turning the Tide program. The program currently employs client advocates who connect with young people hospitalized for gunshot wounds. The new position will connect with those who are identified as at risk by the Emergency Department, pediatricians or other outpatient providers. There’s also potential for this position to serve as a liaison with other local healthcare organizations that also treat victims of violence, Green said.

Cameron said YAP hopes to show young people the whole big world that’s waiting for them.

“YAP has this philosophy: Do for; do with; and cheer on,” he said.

Hink said the team knows that this is difficult work. But the ripple effects of homicide are so wide-reaching – from the emotional costs to the families of the victims and perpetrators to the financial costs to the families and to society at large, in terms of hospitalization, investigation and incarceration – that something must be done. She is hopeful that as the program is able to show success, local governments will sign on with additional support.

“If you can change just a few trajectories, it can have a profound impact,” she said.