Grant aims to pair services in city's most drug-ridden police districts

The communities served by the city’s 24th and 25th police districts are some of the areas in the city most stricken by drug addiction and violence.

Last year, according to figures from the city’s Office of Addiction Services, a division of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), these districts accounted for the highest ratio of shootings of any neighborhoods in the city, the highest rate of death with drugs present — two-thirds higher than any comparable areas citywide — and a rate of arrests for drug sales more than three and a half times higher than the citywide average.

Until now, to combat these issues, a number of local organizations have worked on their own to heal the community in a number of ways — be it through health-care, education, violence prevention or behavioral health services.

But, last week, thanks to a grant through the city’s Department of Behavioral Health, service groups that work within these police districts secured $240,000 to create a coalition that could help coordinate the efforts and improve services.

“The intent is to address the issues facing the areas,” said Alexis Brown, executive director of Kensington’s Community Woman’s Education Project, one of the member groups of the newly formed coalition.

Called “Our Communities Connect,” the coalition currently includes Brown’s organization as well as Aria Health, Best Behavioral Healthcare CADEkids — which stands for Changing Attitudes, Decisions and Environments for kids, and works with children in public schools to avoid conflict and drug abuse — and Providence Center.

During a community summit held Friday, May 6, at CWEP’s offices at 2801 Frankford Ave., Brown led discussions with representatives from a wide array of service and community organizations in order to find new member groups and work out the best ways for the new coalition to support the community.

“We need to work together,” she said, noting that the economy has been hard on residents and non-profits alike.

In order to continue to provide services, and to do it in an effective — and reasonably affordable manner — separate organizations, she said, need to form new bonds.

“The need is on the rise,” she said. “We need to maximize our energies … We all are facing budget cuts. But, most of the time, individuals need multiple services. We need to work together.”

Think of it as the city’s 311 system, she said, only on a smaller level.

Instead of helping residents navigate the services of City Hall, OCC hopes to help residents in the 24th and 25th police districts who need health services, drug addiction counseling, behavioral health services and many other forms of care to find the help they need by connecting the providers in a way that hadn’t been done previously.

OCC focuses only on areas patrolled by the two police districts, which includes areas of Feltonville, Fern Rock, Logan, Frankford, Juniata Park, parts of North Philadelphia east of Broad Street, Kensington, Port Richmond, Tioga, Hunting Park and Nicetown.

“We are trying to home in on what’s here and what’s needed,” Brown said.

For example, CADEkids executive director, Dianne Reed, said her program works in classrooms to help students — the program works with 15 schools throughout the city, including Kensington CAPA — to raise test scores by providing students with personal behavioral attention.

Often, children in the targeted police districts are burdened by issues outside of the classroom that can distract them and affect their ability in school, said Reed.

“We have a lot of kids who are dealing with grief and they bring that to the classroom,” she said. “When we ask kids if they have ever heard gunshots, everyone in the room will raise their hand and say yes.”

Kameelah Mu’Min, assistant manager for the community based services development unit of the DBHIDS, said that Our Communities Connect is only one of the coalitions the department hopes to help fund throughout Philadelphia.

The department saw a similar program created recently in South Philly and is still working to establish more.

“At this point, community involvement isn’t just important, it’s essential,” she said.

Mu’Min said that member organizations need these connections because often they are working hard to provide a service and it can be taxing for each to seek out help from other organizations in order to provide people with additional services.

Often, she said, locals need more help than one organization can provide, be it overcoming drug addiction or dealing with a mental health issue.

Residents need “wellness and healing” as well, Mu’Min said.

“We know there are providers working in these areas, but, we needed to find a way to provide the funds so that we could pull them all together,” said Mu’Min. “We want these groups to connect.”

Brown said Our Communities Connect is still young, but grant funding will help support the program for a little over two years, allowing the groups the time to work hand in hand and find solutions to some of the biggest problems facing these communities.

For more information, visit Our Communities Connect’s website at www.ourcommunitiesconnect.com.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com