This therapy helps victims of violent crimes. Who will pay for it?

Last spring, Randy White was shot in the stomach when he was caught in the crossfire of a shooting at an Atlanta gas station. The injury kept him in the hospital for a week, but his mental state was not considered. Discharged with no meaningful plan to deal with the psychological consequences that would inevitably follow, he found himself adrift.

A few months later he was still struggling, so he moved to Coney Island, where he grew up. I did bad things in New York, but I never got shot, he told me recently. There had been several arrests on drug charges, time spent in prison, a baby at 19, all preceded by a difficult childhood. He had no family, as, with love, he volunteered.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, returning to New York did not bring him the serenity he hoped to find. Shortly after arriving, he was in a car accident. It was at this point that a friend suggested she see a therapist.

As it happened, there was a place in the neighborhood called the Trauma Recovery Center, operated out of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, a long-standing social service organization. CRTs, as they are known, were born more than 20 years ago and have spurred a movement of sorts as a means to help victims of violent crime, specifically in low-income communities where distrust of traditional mental health treatment can be generalized A 2022 survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice found that 74% of victims did not receive counseling to help them process what had happened, a matter of both reluctance and inadequate service.

Since the first TRC opened in San Francisco in 2001, 52 programs in 12 states have followed, and they have largely received bipartisan support because they work both palliatively and preventively. The structure allows counselors and case managers to deal with the emergency and any practical concerns that may arise from it, and then allows them to stay with the victim to help manage the emotional effects – anger and turmoil that can lead to acts dangerous recriminations, or anxiety and depression that can spiral into unemployment and homelessness.

In addition to the Coney Island facility, two other trauma recovery centers have opened in New York in the past year, one in East Flatbush and one in the Bronx. Their main evangelist is City Council spokeswoman Adrienne Adams, who was instrumental in establishing them. But the $5 million in funding, which has come entirely from Councils’ discretionary funds over the past two budget cycles, is not enough to sustain them.

The Council wants the city to provide long-term funding as a commitment in its budget, and that the survival of the recovery centers does not depend on the support of Ms. Adams, whose second and final term ends on January 1 of 2026.

Ensuring its survival has been perhaps the loudest cry from speakers, even at a time of intensely competing interests, when so many services have been threatened with cuts. There has been no state funding so far.

In his district of Queens, Speaker Adams said, he has spent a lot of time around victims of gun violence. I have met these people’s mothers and grandmothers. I have sat in their houses, he said. And what do we do for them? These families want retaliation. The brothers want to retaliate. But they were looking at crisis intervention, legal advocacy.

We have a place where people can go where they can find solace, he continued. These centers are absolutely the answer.

At the Coney Island branch, Mr. White began seeing a therapist and unpacking. I was 38 and had never sought counselling; it was hard work. He didn’t open up to me at all, he said. I was just giving him pieces. But when he began to offer a fuller picture of himself, progress came quickly.

After three months he had a job the center had helped him get at a homeless shelter on Neptune Avenue and found himself freed from various anxieties and temptations. My mind is a straight path — I just want to go to work and go home, she said after speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony this week for the new dedicated space the center now occupies on Mermaid Avenue.

In 2006, a randomized trial was conducted to study the effectiveness of the first trauma recovery center in San Francisco. The research looked at people in hospitals after serious physical injuries from violence. They followed up with patients referred to a CRT and those referred to a standard community mental health program, and found that those who had gone through a CRT were significantly less likely to become homeless or suffer from depression.

Another study examined women at a rape crisis center and found that those who went to a CRT were significantly more likely to file police reports than those who did not. Trauma recovery centers were also cheaper to run than less effective community mental health programs. Later studies from Long Beach, California, and Cleveland reached similar conclusions.

The approach succeeds in part because it does not ignore the importance of meeting immediate material needs. Getting someone in the door to address a housing issue, for example, can build the trust that paves the way for therapy or other forms of help. Alicia Boccellari, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and founder of the trauma recovery model, offered an example of how the system works.

He described a case where a woman had lost her daughter in random firing, an incident in which her son and one of her grandchildren were also injured. She was left to raise that grandson and the children’s siblings, but she was tormented and afraid to send the children to school. As a result of the crime, his car had been impounded as evidence of a seemingly trivial problem in comparison, but with a profound impact. The trauma recovery center connected her with the local child welfare agency and a car dealership that donated a car.

The model is not about a doctor, Dr. Boccellari said. Rather, it is designed to change a powerful worldview that victims of serious crime may carry with them: that the world is defined by violence and cruelty.

In recent years, the idea of ​​trauma has been cheapened in popular discourse, having become attached to what was once imagined as a simple inconvenience. It is a trauma recovery center could generate skepticism in certain circles is almost inconceivable. But a political and media apparatus that exhibits victims as a means of justifying punitive criminal justice policies, without committing to helping those victims, is harder to approve. The proposed city budget would also cut $3 million from a Safe Horizon program that places a victim advocate at every police precinct in the city.

A trauma recovery center aims to bring someone back not necessarily to a previous self, but to a better and more complete self. As Randy White said: If I didn’t, I’d be out on the street. He would be dead.

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