Interrupting Violence: Community advocates address the pandemic within the pandemic

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Just as the numbers of Covid-19 cases and fatalities are staggering, so are the reports of increased violence—in communities and at homes, within families, cohorts and intimate partner relationships. Community organizer K. Bain, the founder of 696 Build Queensbridge and Community Capacity Development, calls it a “double pandemic.”

Citing a reported 95 percent increase in shootings over 2019, Bain said, “It’s not new to us, we’ve been living and dying with these conditions a long time, but Covid has dusted off a lot of layers of what’s been there a long time.”

Bain joined The Floating Hospital’s director of behavioral health, Dr. Igda Martinez, and Rebecca Hernandez, director of the DOVE Initiative at Safe Horizon, on Dec. 10 for a first-ever online panel discussion, “Interrupting Violence During Turbulent Times.” About 60 people “Zoomed in” to hear what community leaders are doing to anticipate and resolve the uptick in violence.

“When I was approached about hosting a panel discussion, I immediately knew we had to address issues of trauma in the communities we serve. Trauma is recognized as the concurrent global diagnosis during this pandemic … Requests for mental health services have soared, and our communities are struggling with isolation, fear and severe anxiety,” Martinez said. “When thinking of the trauma work in our communities, I knew speaking with K and Rebecca would prove to be enriching, educational and uplifting.”

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Martinez said The Floating Hospital had seen “record show rates” for mental-health teleservices peaking at 92 percent over the summer. “Sadly, we also have a record number of individuals whom we have had to place on the high-risk list, meaning they require additional monitoring, support and outreach because we believe them to be at risk of hurting themselves or others,” she said.

Her peers also experienced spikes in stressors in the communities they serve.

“We expected it and had to anticipate how to respond with safety planning,” said Fernandez, whose organization focuses on domestic and other violent emergencies. She cited numerous stressors beyond the coronavirus as activators: housing concerns, food insecurity, unemployment and “just people being together 24/7” during lockdown. She said no matter the backstory, her organization takes a “people-centered approach without judgment” and in collaboration with other community partners.

“Our clients are the experts of their lives. They know what they want and we have to listen and advocate for them,” she said.

Bain, a self-described “serial social entrepreneur” has worked globally using human and healing justice models to realign and build communities affected by violence. His current initiative in the Queensbridge housing complex across the street from The Floating Hospital’s new clinic uses “violence interrupters” for on-the-ground interventions, communication and community engagement. Past initiatives have contributed to a 15 percent decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts in New York City,

With different platforms and direct services, the three organizations share the view of meeting people where they are, applying sustainable, holistic approaches, creating open dialogue and staying in the game to support people.

“We need to understand when to be flexible and give support, and we want to lift each other up so we can help each other,” Martinez said. “Every organization knows what it can provide, but also what it can’t, and it is meaningful and beneficial to know community partners who can pick up where your organization leaves off. Together, we build a stronger community.”

Learn more here:
696BuildQueensbridge
DOVE Initiative at Safe Horizon

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare to families living with homelessness. We provide free and secure transport to and from more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital operates a main clinic in Long Island City with satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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