Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has committed $50 million over five years toward funding partnerships with community organizations taking public health approaches to preventing gun violence. 

“This effort is intended to be coordinated at the county level but implemented locally,” Fitzgerald said in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “The organizations receiving funding, and the people who do the work, are best suited to determine how to make an impact in their community.”

The public health approach to violence prevention calls for treating violence like an infectious disease. Researchers seek to identify the root causes of gun violence — including poverty, systemic racism and a lack of educational opportunities — so that they can understand what factors may put an individual at risk of becoming involved in gun violence, and how they can intervene before it’s too late.  

The county’s Department of Human Services selected the organizations it’s partnering with after soliciting two Requests for Proposals [RFP] last year. 

Through the first RFP, DHS selected Neighborhood Resilience Project, an organization promoting healing in trauma-affected communities, to serve as a “countywide convener” — a leader promoting cooperation and coordination among violence prevention initiatives across the county. DHS also selected to fund several organizations whose violence prevention efforts can be centrally operated, including: 

  • Social Contract, which brings stakeholders together to evaluate trends and causes of shootings, using this insight to inform prevention strategies.
  • Reimagine Reentry, a program that sends trauma responders to visit shooting victims in hospital trauma centers, in hopes of connecting young men to services that will decrease their risk of retaliating against shooters. 
  • Center for Victims and Community Empowerment Association, two programs that help gunshot victims and their loved ones connect with supportive services for trauma recovery, like mental health care and survivor support groups. 
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, an approach to reducing crime through strategies like blight reduction, strategic lighting placement and vacant property remediation.
Richard Garland visits recovering gunshot victims as part of a University of Pittsburgh intervention program. His goal is to keep them away from future shootings. (Photo by Natasha Khan/PublicSource)

Richard Garland, executive director of Reimagine Reentry, said the county’s emphasis on collaboration is “imperative” because it will help organizations sharpen their violence intervention efforts by sharing knowledge about “hot people” — those most at risk of becoming involved with violence.

The funding will allow Reimagine Reentry to hire three more outreach workers for their hospital-based intervention efforts and provide additional relocation assistance to victims of violence, Garland said. 

“Since I’ve been doing this work, there’s only been two of us, and if one of us misses one day, the person might get discharged and we might not get to see (a victim),” he said. “With this funding, when the hospital alerts me that they have somebody that agrees to see us, I have somebody there helping them.”

In their second RFP, DHS selected programs that will focus on implementing violence reduction plans in communities outside of the City of Pittsburgh that have been highly impacted by gun violence, including Sto-Rox, Penn Hills, the Greater Wilkinsburg Area, the South Pittsburgh Hilltop, parts of the Woodland Hills School District and the Mon Valley. The programs selected include: 

  • Cure Violence, which trains trusted community figures to serve as “credible violence interrupters” tasked with connecting at-risk individuals — especially people ages 15 through 34 — with prevention services. 
  • Becoming A Man, a school-based program that employs full-time licensed counselors to provide behavioral therapy, peer support and future orientation services to boys and men in middle schools and high schools.
  • Rapid Employment and Development Initiative, which connects at-risk young men with mental health supports, paid transitional jobs and professional development opportunities. 

The organizations selected through the second RFP each identified a local agency that will oversee and coordinate with other groups who will help carry out their violence prevention plans. These local agencies include: Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks and Stowe, the Penn Hills School District, South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace, Greater Valley Community Services, Steel Rivers Council of Governments and Community Forge in Wilkinsburg. 

Organizations selected for the first RFP are entering into one-year contracts with the county, while organizations selected for the second RFP are entering into five-year contracts with the county. 

Lee Davis, a violence prevention expert who has helped implement the Cure Violence model in Pittsburgh over the past four years, said the funding will be critical for providing more case management and outreach workers on the ground. However, he said that violence prevention groups “need a bigger commitment” and “need a longer commitment” than five years of funding.

“Let’s be honest, three years — you’re just really getting up and running, and getting to know who’s who, and getting the coordination together between all these organizations,” Davis said. “By the time five years come, we’re back at ground zero again.”

Rashad Byrdsong, Community Empowerment Association’s founder and CEO, said the funding his program is receiving will help them to add academic, emotional and social support for youth navigating the trauma of violence. 

However, he noted that violence itself is a systemic issue that’s taken root in Allegheny County over the course of decades, so the county’s commitment is only a first step. “We definitely need more than $50 million to address the deep-rooted problem of violence in the city,” he added.

Rashad Byrdsong standing in front of the Community Empowerment Assocation building in Homewood.
Rashad Byrdsong, founder of the Community Empowerment Association, outside the organization’s office in Homewood. (Photo by Kaycee Orwig/PublicSource)

The county did not immediately provide figures on specific dollar commitments to the individual organizations.

“We are extremely fortunate in this region to have so many different organizations and entities that engage and active when there is a need and addressing violence in our community is certainly no exception,” Fitzgerald said in the press release. 

The need for violence prevention

In 2022, there were 128 homicides — a majority of which involved firearms — across Allegheny County, the highest reported in recent years. 

Last month, there were 13 homicides in the county. 

Research from the county’s Department of Human Services shows that gun violence clusters in pockets within the county’s “higher-need” communities and its victims are overwhelmingly young Black men between the ages of 18 and 34. 

“This problem didn’t arrive yesterday,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey during a press conference about citywide gun violence on Dec. 2. “We’re not going to solve it tomorrow, but we will solve it in the future.”

Last June, Gainey announced his “Plan for Peace” to curb gun violence, including expanding the city’s crisis response intervention teams — which pair social workers with police officers — and creating hubs across the city to administer emergency services. As part of this plan, Gainey and Pittsburgh City Council recently announced they’d be creating an advisory committee to study approaches for opening youth and family resource centers throughout the city, particularly in neighborhoods impacted by youth violence.  

The city, in partnership with the POISE Foundation, also distributed nearly $1 million in Stop the Violence grant funds to more than 30 community organizations across Pittsburgh last November. 

Countywide, community organizations play a pivotal role in violence prevention work, like this McKeesport group training trusted community figures to defuse tensions before they escalate to gunfire.

After-school programs are working to halt the cycle of gun violence by providing safe environments where young people can connect with one another — and mentors — to learn and practice skills for taking care of themselves and their mental health. These programs are helping teens feel empowered to become activists and lead the conversation about reducing gunfire across the county. 

Local colleges are also helping students of all ages work through the trauma of gun violence, including a new program at the Community College of Allegheny County that’s providing participants — who have been impacted by violence — with life-coaching, financial assistance and free therapy. 

Amelia Winger is PublicSource’s health reporter with a focus on mental health. She can be reached at or on Twitter @ameliawinger.

This reporting has been made possible through the Staunton Farm Mental Health Reporting Fellowship and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

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Amelia Winger is a health reporter for PublicSource, with a focus on mental health. She is telling solutions-oriented stories that combine human experiences with broader context about data and policies....