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March 29, 2022

Violence prevention hotline seeks to aid Philadelphia residents by providing community resources

Dialing 211 will connect callers to a trained professional who can supply neighborhood-specific social service programs

Crime Violence Prevention
Violence Prevention Hotline Marjan Grabowski/Unsplash

Philadelphia, in partnership with United Way, released a new 24/7 violence prevention hotline aimed at connecting concerned residents with resources and workforce development.

Philadelphians looking for violence prevention resources in their communities can now dial the city's new hotline for conflict intervention and resolution, city officials said on Monday. 

By dialing "2-1-1" and selecting the third option on the hotline's main menu, residents will be connected to a "Resource Navigator" – a trauma-informed, specially trained professional who will be equipped to refer the caller to additional resources or neighborhood-specific prevention services. 

The project is a collaboration between the city of Philadelphia and United Way, a nonprofit that works to fight poverty. The organization hosts a similar helpline in South Jersey that connects residents to basic care needs, disaster relief, tax assistance, affordable housing, and human trafficking prevention. 

"Imagine the feeling of being disconnected not just from safety but the sense that you're alone in that, and the idea that you could, by dialing three numbers, get from a place of disconnection to connection, from feeling resourceless to feeling resourced," said Bill Golderer, president and CEO of United Way. "Philadelphians need their neighbors in times like this." 

The 24/7 hotline will provide residents with resources related to conflict intervention, youth violence prevention, peer counseling, workforce development, behavioral health support, and after-school programming for children and adolescents. 

In many cases, Resource Navigators will connect callers to community organizations within their specific communities that have the knowledge and understanding of the area and its challenges. 

However, the violence prevention hotline is not an emergency helpline. It is only meant to connect residents with community organizations and workforce development to prevent crime and intervene in conflicts that do not require law enforcement. Those who witness or experience a crime in real time are expected and encouraged to call 911 for immediate assistance. 

"911 is clearly an emergency number — life and death, rescue squad, police, response," said Mayor Jim Kenney. "211 is plugging into a network of people who are not police officers, who are not doing law enforcement but doing the back-of-the-house work to keep kids and families out of law enforcement's way. It's a multi-faceted approach, and it's taking longer than I'd like. I wish I had a magic solution to this problem and could snap my fingers and make it go away." 

Kenney said that while he wishes he could immediately get rid of all of the guns in the city, it's important to have a collection of services available for people who are concerned about violence in their communities.

United Way previously teamed up with city officials in 2020 to launch "The Promise." The initiative includes a tiered, income-based plan to fight poverty and remove barriers to employment in Philadelphia. The organization also organized a philanthropic partnership called SVP Philadelphia, which provides grants and skilled volunteers to organizations working to end racial economic disparities.

The call for preventative measures to address violence in the city is not a new one. Many residents feel that Philadelphia is experiencing a crisis of violence in most of its neighborhoods. 

Philadelphia saw 562 homicides in 2021 and there have already been 120 homicides in the city so far this year – a 3% increase compared with the same time last year, according to city data

While staffing shortages among the Philadelphia Police Department and 911 dispatch teams have played a role in the increased homicide rate, officials with the city, including Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, are concerned about the uptick in young residents either being the perpetrators or victims of violence in the city. 

Eugene Thomas — otherwise known as "Buddha" — has been working in Philadelphia's nonprofit sector since 2015. He began his own organization called "Power Circle Youth" that provides trauma-informed life skills training to children and young adults in the city. 

Currently, Thomas works with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, as well as the Frankford School Coalition. In both of those roles he works hands-on with children, parents, families, and the community at-large to fight the battle against violence as a collective.

"Believe it or not, we are in a war zone," Thomas said. "That's how many of our kids look at it – it's like there's a war out here." 

Each organization that Thomas works with will be part of the 211 registry. Those who want their community organization to join can fill out a form on the 211 website.

Those who want to apply to become a Resource Navigator can read the job description and apply. There are both full and part time options available and equipment and trauma-informed training will be provided.