In California, a family who lost someone to gun violence or a person experiencing domestic abuse could receive compensation from the state—money that would help cover the funeral expenses, fund their relocation to somewhere safe, or go toward mental health services.
In reality, though, the state’s victim compensation fund is offered as a “last resort,” and bureaucratic red tape and requirements including that the crime victims cooperate with law enforcement end up being barriers to the communities that could benefit the most (and that’s if they’re even aware the fund exists). Less than one in five California crime victims report receiving financial or emotional support, according to Californians for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform organization.
Now, Californians for Safety and Justice’s project Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of crime survivors, is giving cash grants to people or the families of those who have experienced crime, without those barriers. Instead of funneling victims compensation through law enforcement and state systems that have historically failed to help marginalized communities, Californians for Safety and Justice is distributing $100,000 in grants to eight survivor-led organizations, which will give the cash directly to community members in need.
The initiative, explains Californians for Safety and Justice executive director Tinisch Hollins, is meant to show how providing resources for those impacted by crime is tied to public safety. “But it’s also to really highlight the disparities around victims of color and the lack of access to resources and support they are often faced with,” she says, “and how many times victims and survivors from our communities are not even seen as crime victims.”
Hollins doesn’t want this focus on crime victims to fuel the narrative that crime is out of control or that the answer lies in ramping up police. The pilot grant program is about the opposite: putting funds and resources back into the community, rather than into state-run institutions. Some communities, she says, are “overwhelmed and overburdened by the tough-on-crime approach, rather than being given the resources and support needed to heal and address the harm that’s happened.”
Community groups may also be more aware of the kinds of support crime victims and their families need, and what next steps could prevent more crime from happening. After a shooting in a neighborhood, for example, the best way to prevent another shooting or any retaliation might be to address the needs of the victims and families, even relocating a family member who may be in danger. “That’s not something you can go to [the state-run] victims compensation and get support for,” Hollins says. “Community knows that, though. Community knows it because they see it happen all the time.”
That quick reaction time is another crucial benefit of the direct-assistance pilot program. According to the state’s victims compensation fund, it’s a “last resort,” and even then a request needs to go through layers of gatekeepers who validate the claim, approve it, and then reimburse the person in need. Some survivors may not have the emotional bandwidth for that after exhausting all other avenues. “It’s also not directly beneficial to them when they’re in a state of crisis—when they need to bury a loved one or relocate quickly,” Hollins says.
The $100,000 that will be subgranted to the Californian survivor-led organizations—Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts in South Central Los Angeles; Champions in Service in greater Los Angeles; Take a Stand in Fresno; Kelly’s Angels Foundation in Stockton; Community Youth Center of San Francisco; Us 4 Us Bay Area; Broken by Violence in the San Francisco Bay Area; and Jr.’s Trauma Care Initiative in San Diego—came from Californians for Safety and Justice’s own budget. How those groups give out the money is up to their own discretion, though Californians for Safety and Justice suggests they give the funds out incrementally, in amounts like $500 or $1,000, to be used however the awardees see fit.
In the future, Hollins hopes this kind of direct compensation isn’t restricted to acts of charity or community organizations, but gets more official funding from municipalities. “These community organizations and leaders are supplementing a gap, a blind spot for systems and for their cities and their counties,” she says. “A big outcome we’re hoping [to see] is to continue building the case for these counties to step up and provide additional funds for this resource to continue.”