SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is hoping to reduce gun violence, sexual violence and youth violence by bringing community organizations and government entities together to develop a five-year plan.
The Violence Prevention Strategic Plan is a collaboration between a diverse set of organizations hoping to tackle gun violence, violence among youth, domestic violence and sexual violence.
Public Health Administrator Erica Haller-Stevenson is leading the project for Metro Health.
Haller-Stevenson said each organization involved has a different goal, but everyone involved wants to see San Antonio safer and healthier.
“Everybody’s going in a slightly different direction, and that’s okay because everyone has a unique mission. However, there are places where we overlap in our missions and if we can harness that and focus on those together, we have a much greater chance of making a big impact on the community,” Haller-Stevenson said.
San Antonio Youth for Christ is one of the faith-based organizations hoping to tackle violence among youth.
Chief Ministry Officer Charles Skarin said the church became involved in the plan after two teen congregants were killed in separate shootings. Skarin said Humberto, or Berto, was shot while walking down the street and Manuel Ramos was shot and killed while hanging out with his friends.
“Both innocent youths,” Skarin said. “It was right when the Uvalde shooting happened. And so it just seemed like one after another. All these teens are losing their lives and we can’t just stand back anymore.”
Gun violence is the leading cause of death among minority youth, Skarin said.
San Antonio Youth for Christ is also involved with the Youth Violence Coalition, which focuses on creating programs and services to prevent and educate against youth violence.
Metro Health’s plan will also coincide with the San Antonio Police Department’s Violence Reduction Plan, which the University of Texas San Antonio helped facilitate. It mainly focuses on problem-oriented or hotspot policing. Part of the police department’s Violence Reduction Plan focuses on the root cause of crime and that’s where Metro Health’s plan compliments it.
“It’s an opportunity for their law enforcement approach to tie in to our public health approach,” Haller-Stevenson said.
The first step in the Violence Prevention Strategic Plan is to collect data. According to Haller-Stevenson, much of the local data surrounding the four sections of violence is incomplete.
“If we try to make decisions about interventions, programs, services without looking at the data, we’re probably going to go in the wrong direction,” Haller-Stevenson said.
After collecting the data, Metro Health is bringing it to the organizations involved so that they can develop strategies, indicators of success and set benchmarks by the end of August. Those strategies will go through a public comment phase in August and September.
Haller-Stevenson said this collaboration process will also reveal how each organization’s goals might overlap.
“In addition to really tapping into what people know, it creates these connections between them and they work together in the future,” Haller -Stevenson said.
Skarin said he is excited to collaborate with other organizations because a similar effort was successful in reducing teen pregnancy in San Antonio.
“So when we work together, we know there’s power in that. It’s already happened once. So that’s one of the reasons I’m hopefully excited that that can happen again,” Skarin said. “As drastic as that was, this is even more because kids are literally dying out in our city and it’s getting worse.”