SAN ANTONIO – Treating violence like an infectious disease is a non-traditional way of approaching gun violence prevention, but it’s working in cities all over the world, including in San Antonio.
San Antonio Metro Health’s Stand Up SA violence prevention program started in 2015. It was the first in Texas to adopt the evidence-based model, and now other cities are seeing its success and consulting with Metro Health about how to start their own versions.
The model aims to reduce the occurrence of violence through three key strategic components:
- Interrupting the direct transmission and spread of violence;
- Identifying and changing the mindset of potential perpetrators; and,
- Changing community norms regarding violence.
It’s been so successful, the program was just able to double its staff and resources at the end of 2020.
Program leaders have said that success has been all thanks to the employees who have their own personal experiences with violence in San Antonio neighborhoods. Those unsung heroes understand the streets, the root of the violence, and believe change is possible.
“I was suicidal. That’s one of the reasons I started gang banging. I didn’t care. I was like, nobody cares about me,” said Terry Hubbard, who grew up in San Antonio without a father, in the care of an overwhelmed mother, and then an aunt looking after 13 children.
“When I started changing my life around, my son had got shot,” Hubbard said. “I sat my kids down and talked to them and let them know I was raising them wrong.”
That’s when he joined the Stand Up SA team, which focusing specifically on retaliatory crime and that one act of violence perpetuates another creating a cycle of violence.
Hubbard received months of training to start, and said there has been continual training throughout his employment with the city.
“They educated me on domestic violence, on gang violence, on how to mediate conflicts, how to talk down someone with a gun or knife, so there will be no retaliations or fighting or any gang violence,” he explained.
He said he has an eye for recognizing conflict, because he’s from the streets where those conflicts arise.
“We’ll sit back in the hot spots, the stores, known gang territory, and we’ll go wait to see if anything happens, any conflicts,” Hubbard said. “We go out, we canvass, we talk, we shake hands. We go door to door, talk to the elderly people. We gotta figure out the community.”
That’s how Hubbard and his teammates spend their five day work weeks, trying not only to safely intervene before things escalate, but changing cultural and community norms as they go.
Some of the norms contributing to the violence is what Schree Woods Foster grew up around.
“I came up from a rough life,” she said. “I changed my life around. I’ve been 12 years clean and I have a child.”
However, it’s that tough life experience that enables her and Hubbard to intervene on the streets.
“We have the credibility to go back into the neighborhood and stop these people. They actually listen to us because they know we’ve been there. We try to give them something they can relate to, from us. Then we’re examples, like you seen where I was and look, we’re doing good,” Hubbard said.
“I’m going to let you know, ‘I’m here to help you. If you don’t want to go to jail or you don’t want to get killed, then you need to come walk with me for a minute. Get your mind together.’ And most of the time I can get to them,” Foster said.
Everyone on the team works with both adults and kids.
“If it’s an adult, I’ll say, ‘have you tried working out to ease some of your stress? Or how about coming with me to work with some of these kids at football practice? You can see yourself in these kids,’” Hubbard said.
The kids they work with are typically the school bullies.
“He feels like he’s the tough one because he’s always getting hit on the head and shoulder and stuff at home, when all he really needs is someone to just talk to him and say, ‘You know man that ain’t the way to do it.’ And then show them another way,” Hubbard said.
He becomes mentors to those kids and takes the time to check up on them regularly.
“Go to their schools, make sure they’re not bullying, I put them in a sport, track, football, soccer. Now they’ve got new friends. They have other things to look up to instead of looking out their windows and seeing drug dealers with nice cars,” Hubbard explained.
“We have a lot of stuff to offer them. Schools, work, jobs,” Foster said, explaining that through Metro Health, they are able to connect people with a whole list of programs and resources depending on their needs.
Many of the people they help get access to food, housing, domestic violence, healthcare and parenting programs.
The system working so well, the team of 12 has just been joined by 14 new co-workers: eight for outreach on the streets, four hospital-based workers, one data analyst and one case worker. The analyst and case worker will help relieve the outreach team on the streets, so they can focus solely on face-to-face intervention, and not paperwork or finding people extra resources.
“We work the East Side, and the West Side the most, but we do go to the northeast, to the southeast. We go to where there’s problems,” Foster said.
With more people hitting the streets for outreach, they will now be able to address more of those problems before they turn violent.
Their work can seem dangerous, but both Foster and Hubbard said they’re never afraid to do their job.
“You got to have courage. You got to have faith in yourself and what you’re doing. You’ve got to feel it in your heart to go back out into the community and do the opposite of what you’ve been doing all your life,” Hubbard said.
Foster said it was the Stand Up program itself that gave taught her to have that self confidence and faith.
“Stand Up has taught me a lot,” she said. “I couldn’t get into a computer. They taught me that. I didn’t know how to talk to people without talking at them. You have to have the patience and the ability to keep calm and talk to an angry person.”
They both are ecstatic to continue their crucial work that they say is life-saving for everyone involved, themselves included.
Although Stand Up SA’s main focus is gun violence, the team has also been instrumental in aiding in other issues such as kidnapping, trafficking, rape, and drug incidents.
If you want more information about the program or want to get involved, head to the website or call (210) 207-8844.