As the fight over Illinois’ budget drags on, an addiction treatment program for juveniles and an anti-violence program, which both saw their state funding cut off earlier this year, still wait for a lifeline.
CeaseFire Illinois is finding ways to keep some of their programs going with private donations, volunteers and foundational support, but money and time are running out.
CeaseFire is designed to treat violence as a contagious disease by dispatching people trained to intercede, diffuse and redirect those in the midst of volatile situations. Each site has a team of two part-time violence interrupters who work hands-on to keep the peace in crime-ridden neighborhoods. CeaseFire Illinois program manager Jalon Arthur, says violence interrupters conducted over 700 mediations last year. “They’re the ones who know about all the beefs, every single thing that’s going on,” he says.
Because of the budget impasse, 100 trained staff members were let go, leaving only 15 to take up the slack. “As it stands as of last fiscal year, the state funding which we received accounted for about 85 to 90 percent of our funding for all of our communities. We have been aggressively pursuing other funding streams,” Arthur says.
CeaseFire Illinois started with 24 statewide sites. Now there are only five left: Roger’s Park/Uptown, West Garfield Park, South Shore, Brighton Park and Little Village. They are all located in Chicago.
Facing the threat of permanent closure, the 15-year-old organization is struggling to survive. “It's important that we're able to have a presence in our communities. If we're actually serious about stopping shootings and killings in this city, then we have to be funded. In a nutshell, if we're not funded by the state, it’s devastation [and] tragedy for the communities that we service,” Arthur says.
A collaborative operation, paid for by Chicago area hospitals, remains intact. Their workers are called to the Advocate Christ Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital when there are shootings, stabbings or beatings. The hospital responders, working along with the violence interrupters, intervene to try and stop retaliations and help families through trauma. According to an official with Cure Violence, an organization that provides training to CeaseFire and other groups on the public health model to combat violence, the hospital program produced 1700 interventions last year in the City of Chicago.
While CeaseFire is managing to stay somewhat afloat, another agency has had to stop its core efforts.
The Franklin County Juvenile Meth Treatment Program, which started in 2006, relies completely on state support. Based at the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center in southern Illinois, the program provides free year-long meth-addiction treatment to juvenile offenders ages 10 to 18.
Both CeaseFire and Franklin County’s Juvenile Meth Treatment Program saw cash from the state dry up in March, when Gov. Bruce Rauner froze millions in grants to help cover a gap in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
After the grant freeze, the crux of Franklin County’s program — an intensive in-custody regimen, which is in the first six months of treatment — had to shut down. The program lost the eight beds reserved for participants and can no longer accept new clients.
Right now, its four-member staff can only conduct the remaining half-year aftercare portion of treatment for those who’ve already been released from the detention center because there is little cost associated with administering those services.
The Franklin County Board pitched in $30,000 to pay expenses up to July 15. If there’s no budget resolution by then, the program would be eliminated says its director, Andrew Belt. He says because of the unique aspects of the program, such as the extensive treatment period, it has been difficult to pinpoint funding alternatives like insurance.
“Almost anything you look in to, it takes a while to set up. There's no guarantee it would be [covered] by insurance,” Belt says. “Insurance companies look at how quickly you can get them in and out. Research has proven the longer time you can keep a person in rehab and work with them, the better chances they have when they get out.”
The freeze also curtailed contracts with the state, leaving some agencies that already spent money waiting for reimbursement. Last year, three Ceasefire Illinois community partner agencies shelled out start-up money to begin operations in their areas. Arthur says ONE Northside, Springfield Urban League and Youth Outreach Services combined are currently $285,000 in the hole with no promise of reimbursement from the state in sight.
“Everything they did was in accordance to the contractual language, the only difference is that no one knew that there was going to be a suspension,” Arthur says.
ONE Northside, which works with the Roger’s Park/Uptown site, took the biggest hit with a loss of $152,000. They recently received a donation of $5,000 to pay workers for nearly a month. However, since that money ran out, workers have been volunteering their services.
“The women and the men in the community definitely call upon us in their time of need. This is our community. This is where we live. And nobody is going to listen to us, but us,” says Ralph Edwards, program manager for the Roger’s Park/Uptown site. “I know that these kids want us, they need us to let them know that their lives matter.”
Edwards says he has since started a restorative justice camp to help young people until a budget is approved. He also says if the state funding fails to come through, he would continue to use personal resources to keep the program going.
“We’ve got to keep fighting. The community needs us. We got to do it on our own,” Edwards says.
Representatives from both CeaseFire and Franklin County’s Juvenile Meth Treatment Program say they are serving a critical need, but programs like these are not on the budget priority list for now. The new fiscal year started July 1, and there is still no budget. Democratic lawmakers have been pushing the idea of one month temporary funding for certain areas of state government, but neither of these programs would be funded under that plan.
“Everything right now is in jeopardy,” Chicago Democratic Rep. LaShawn Ford says. “We have to make sure only the strongest programs survive that's going to save the state money and that's cost effective. But that's where the fight is, to make sure we're able to prove that these programs are sustainable and that they are worth spending taxpayer's dollars.”
For fiscal year 2015, Ceasefire Illinois was allocated $4.6 million. For the current fiscal year, Rauner proposed cutting their budget to $1.9 million. The Franklin County Juvenile Meth Treatment Program's budget for fiscal year 2015 was $1.2 million. Rauner wants to eliminate the program for the current fiscal year.
Neither Rauner’s office nor the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which administers the state’s grants for both programs, would comment for this story.
“The programs have been cut for the last five years. We’ve been making cuts within the budget without a doubt, and scaling back government programs and services. So times are getting more difficult,” Ford says. “I don’t think that we have the luxury to eliminate programs in the state or cut viable programs.”
Republican Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights speculates that budget negotiations could run past July. Still, he says it is possible that both programs would get relief when a budget finally emerges. “Once some movement occurs on the budget and there is some general agreement as to how we move forward, I think there will be some funds restored,” Harris says. “Without a doubt, the programs provide valuable services. Everybody agrees to that. The question boils down to how much do you fund them?”