Capitol Beat

Opinion: To keep gun violence down in Philadelphia, invest in crime victims

In an op-ed, Yolanda Jennings writes that Trauma Recovery Centers are a model proven to help survivors heal from crime and violence.

Yolanda Jennings

Yolanda Jennings Courtesy of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice

Gun violence statistics have never just been numbers to me. They’re deeply personal – I’ve lost both a son and a cousin to shootings and, as a crime survivor, I can tell you the effects of gun violence don’t end when physical wounds are gone. I wish I could say my story was unique, but so many people in my community have been touched by violence. 

Luckily, it looks like the tide is turning. After rising during the pandemic in 2020, gun violence in Philadelphia has now fallen to its lowest level in nearly a decade, the largest drop in gun violence of any major U.S. city so far this year. Nothing can bring my family back, but I sleep better at night knowing fewer people will lose loved ones in this unthinkable way. 

Our city is getting safer, but what happens to those of us who’ve been victimized by gun violence all these years? If our state leaders truly care about public safety, they must act now to invest in trauma services and comprehensive support for crime survivors. 

Our elected leaders have the opportunity to approve a $5 million appropriation request in the state budget. This would establish and fund four trauma recovery centers across Pennsylvania, including one in Philadelphia and one in Pittsburgh. It’s a modest investment that would have a major impact across Pennsylvania. Trauma Recovery Centers are shown to help stop cycles of unaddressed trauma and violence, and help victims heal.

Those of us who have survived violent crime often face devastating, lifelong consequences from trauma. Unaddressed trauma from violence impacts entire communities, leading to job loss, addiction and mental health issues – and even making it more likely a victim will be victimized by crime again. The trauma can negatively impact a victim’s ability to get or keep housing. It can lead to homelessness and even contact with the justice system, costly consequences for both the victim and the community. 

So many victims suffer for years or even our entire lives, and research shows that the majority of crime victims don’t get any help to recover. 

Fortunately, there is a way forward for Pennsylvania to support victims of violent crime, one that we know is effective. Trauma Recovery Centers are a model proven to help survivors heal from crime and violence. They are designed to identify and provide comprehensive care to the most underserved victims of crime, including those with multiple complex needs, at no cost to the victim. TRC clinicians tailor services for each victim, while working to overcome barriers to treatment that often prevent access to traditional victim services.

Crime survivors across our state are united in calling for TRCs as a public safety solution that works. I know because I am a member of the largest crime victim network in the country, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. We have close to 200,000 members nationally and 8,000 members here in Pennsylvania. Our network recently released a Pennsylvania Crime Victims Agenda, which included a recommendation to establish more TRCs.

Why are we rallying around Trauma Recovery Centers? Because they’re working. 

Right now there are 52 Trauma Recovery Centers around the country that are helping hard-to-reach victims of violent crime heal from the effects of violence-related trauma. According to the National Alliance of Trauma Recovery Centers, over 93% of victims who received trauma recovery center services reported improvements in day-to-day functioning and improvements in relationships with family and friends. Trauma Recovery Centers are also shown to increase participation with law enforcement, increase return to employment by 56% and increase victims’ access to and completion of compensation applications.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have tens of thousands of crime victims – but only one Trauma Recovery Center in Harrisburg. There is no center in Philadelphia, despite years of rising crime and a growing number of victims. It’s time to change that.

For so long, I have hoped and prayed that my story of loss would become less common, that fewer families would be torn apart by gun violence and fewer victims would live with debilitating trauma. Our state leaders can do more than just hope and pray – they can act now to support the Trauma Recovery Centers our communities need to truly be safe and healed.

Yolanda Jennings is the Philadelphia Chapter Coordinator of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the largest crime victim network in the U.S.