Philadelphia CARES Unit granted $1.2 million to help families of homicide victims

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As Philadelphia looks to find new ways to reduce the homicide rate in 2021, one program aims to restore the damage that has already affected families by this continuous trend.

"Some of the ways that I've had some difficult encounters with families, is most of our work...we were out on scenes," said Rev. Myra Maxwell, director of the Philadelphia CARES Unit.

The CARES unit, which stands for 'Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors,' is a division of The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office that seeks to help families of homicide victims.

The program offers grief counseling, provides funeral assistance, and assists with utility service if cut off due to financial difficulty.

"When we're there on the scene, unfortunately, if the person remains are still on the scene, we're kind of there just to give them (family) initial support," said Maxwell.

Right after an immediate homicide, Maxwell says that families, in most cases, don't know their next steps.

"We may not give them those next steps on the scene at that immediate moment," she added. "Our purpose is to let them know that we're there and that we'll stay in close contact with them."

Maxwell says that important information can be shared and forgotten amid trauma.

That includes denial, anger, or even not being able to go over to their love ones during an active crime scene.

On Tuesday, the CARES Unit received a new $1.2 million grant to help victims heal and provide a rapid-response to this rising issue.

The program will soon launch a 24/7 phone service where the goal is to connect with peer crisis responders who can relate directly to the pain of losing someone to gun violence.

"I think having 24/7 access is key," said Maxwell. "Having someone that can pick up the phone and talk to a real person as oppose to getting a voicemail is pretty important."

Maxwell adds that families have called around midnight when going through issues of loss and grief.

"We're an unbiased ear, so we're there to provide the support and comfort even if it's just listening," she added.

Maxwell says that the program plays an important role when evaluating the issues that surround these homicides.

"The work that we do is reactive," said Maxwell. However, I think that we'll be able to inform through the work of prevention. When we're working with families, we're having dialogue with them. We're hearing things from them. We're learning from them. They're sharing things with us."
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