Port City United aims to curb community violence but some advocates say they're already doing the same work
New Hanover County has recently committed to addressing community violence with an initiative called Port City United. But, some community advocates are not on board.
Community Health Workers are trusted community members who act as the frontline of public health – that’s according to Abdul Hafeedh Bin Abdullah, the Executive Director of Sokoto House, who says they are a crucial part of his program
“So you have CHWs at work in their own orbit. Right. But then also the CHW is the liaison between systems, health systems, social service systems, juvenile justice systems with the community. So the CHW plays a role of actually translating the various behaviors of the system and the communities to each other," he said.
What makes them so important is their connection to the community. Trust, is the main aspect, Abdullah said.
“We have a phrase we say trust equals access, equals and increase capacity. Right? So if you don't have trust, right, you inhibited from being able to engage the community," he said. "So our number one principle is community and preserving the trust and relationships we have with community over everything else.”
Relationships with the community help Community Health Workers not only address physical violence, but also something they call “structural violence”.
“Poverty, lack of access to proper foods, right, lack access to built environments, when individual go out and be able to enjoy themselves and have exercise, lack of access to like health services," are all part of that problem, he said
Related: New Hanover County announces new Port City United department, tasked with reducing 'community violence'
Those goals are similar to those touted by local government. Port City United is the county initiative and department announced last month. It is largely aimed at preventing and interrupting community violence. But Abdullah said that he and his Community Health Workers have already been doing this work in the community.
Sokoto House removed themselves from conversations with the county due to concerns on how the community call center would work, fearing it may hurt the community more than help it.
“Instead of actually seeing the brilliance in the community, and actually enhancing that brilliance, either they're ignoring it, or they're using it in a way that's actually causing more harm to the community," he said.
Rather than investing in programs already doing the work, Sokoto House members feel like the county wants to control their own program. And Abdullah said it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to train everyone necessary to do the work. This has Sokoto House members wondering:
“With all the work that they're doing all the work, they've shown the capacity to do. What's stopping the city in the county from supporting what they do," he asked.
Related: "All of our kids are at risk": Too Good For Violence works to divert New Hanover youth from violent crime
To be fair – that is what the county program eventually plans to do. Port City United falls under Assistant County Manager, Tufanna Bradley. When asked about how the county intends to go about providing services to the community, she noted that the non-profit community will help fill in the gaps: “It's going to be a partnership and collaboration. Port City United will not be able to do everything on their own, we're going to have to work with the nonprofit community.”
Members of Sokoto House hope the program shapes up in a way that’s helpful for the community, and even for the organization itself.
Sokoto House has held events fostering 'community cohesion' as well as providing community members with a space to learn from and go to in times of need. Open free markets are held once a quarter where people can pick up everything from food to clothes to furniture. Workers take down names and contact info to keep tabs on what people are lacking and could use more support with.
They are working to address the structural violence in very tangible ways, Abdullah said, and that work has proven to be effective at maintaining community relationships and boosting general morale.
“What stops the county from supporting something like this? They have evidence, they have connections, they've exhibited a capacity with no resources. So what stops you from putting some resources behind that? For them to do more good work, they have to have an answer. They have to have an answer," he said. "Right?"
Port City United was only just recently announced in early February. The department is still filling positions and is aiming to be fully functional by next month. In the meantime, Sokoto House says it will continue to do the work it's been doing: with county help, or without it.