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 Mothers demand an end to gun violence in Philadelphia, PA, on August 17, 2020. Photo: Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images. 
 Mothers demand an end to gun violence in Philadelphia, PA, on August 17, 2020. Photo: Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images. 

Philadelphia’s counselors stretched thin as gun violence surges across the city

Public counseling services were already stretched thin before the pandemic and all the crises it brought, none more prevalent in Philadelphia than gun violence.

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In addition to taking the lives of more than 3,700 Philadelphians since it first hit the city in March of 2020, COVID-19 exposed a host of other societal ills and sent the economy into a deep depression that’s affected everyone in some way, shape or form over the past year and three months.

At the very beginning of lockdown, crime rates dropped dramatically, but Philadelphia then saw a similar dramatic rise in gun violence that’s continued to this day.

As of July 12, 2021 the city has recorded 295 homicides, the majority of which are gun related. It is also a 35% increase from the same date a year prior. 

In the process, the frequency of this devastating loss of life is scarring a generation of young people and pushing public mental health resources to its limits. 

Emily DeCarlo, the Director of Youth Outreach at the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia (AVP), recently spoke to AL DÍA about how the rise in homicides has strained her already taxing work. 

DeCarlo attributed the uptick largely to unemployment as a result of the pandemic. However, she also made note that violent crime is a complex issue.

She cited decades of disinvestment and policing that laid the groundwork for the current crisis, with the pandemic acting as a further spark for an already rampant gun violence epidemic. 

“We treat this as a public health crisis that there has not been investment in these communities in decades and we lay the pandemic on top of it and people were isolated people lost jobs people lost housing and violence is the result of that,” said DeCarlo. 

In the past fiscal year, DeCarlo said there was almost a 90% increase in referrals for the youth violence outreach program and a 600% increase for spots on the organizations waitlist. 

The massive waitlist means it could take up to eight months for employees to reach out to a prospective client, which she said is not viable for those who are immediately suffering from the damaging effects of trauma and grief. 

The demand has also taken a major toll on DeCarlo’s staff, who are stretched beyond their limits in trying to meet the need.

“Our staff is maxed out and we are at capacity and burnout is a real threat from that... it can feel like an uphill battle for sure,” she said. 

While it has been hard to keep pushing forward as therapists and counselors continue to be strained, DeCarlo did interject some rays of positivity. 

The recent media attention has attracted new volunteers and donors willing to contribute to the cause, and DeCarlo also cited some intrinsic pros that come along with doing the necessary work.

“It is a responsibility and it is a privilege to get to sit with them and to be a part of their journey even if it’s a small part,” she said. 

To find out more about the services provided by the Anti Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, or to become a donor, more information can be found on its website.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org. The Toll: The Roots and Costs of Gun Violence in Philadelphia, is a solutions-focused series on gun violence that runs through 2021. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow on Twitter at @BrokeInPhilly.

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