Interview with: Cortney Fisher and Daniel Rappaport, District of Columbia Government - Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants
Briefly describe your program and the population that it serves. Project CHANGE is a coordinated, multi-site initiative that serves Washington, DC. The Project CHANGE Initiative consists of six Hospital-Based Violence Intervention programs: MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, University of Maryland Prince George's Hospital Center, and United Medical Center. The benefit of Project CHANGE is that any victim of community violence in DC will be covered by and receive services by one of the Project CHANGE partner hospitals. From there, the Project CHANGE teams at each hospital can ensure that the victim is connected to the resources they need in the hospital, the community, or within the criminal justice system.
What have you found to be the biggest need for this population and how has your program addressed that need? There have been two areas of notable need: housing and legal assistance. Many of the men who are victimized are returned to the same community where they were injured. After their physical wounds no longer require hospital care, the men are sent to the community to navigate a hostile environment while also grappling with the impact of their traumatic injury. The Project CHANGE partners have not been able to find a great solution to the housing problem, but try to work each case individually to at least get respite housing for folks who need it.
The other need that the Project CHANGE partners have identified is the need for legal assistance. Often, when the victims are immediately brought into the hospital, the hospital confiscates the victim's property as evidence without the victim's consent. After the property is introduced into evidence, it takes a lot of persistence to get the property back. Also, Project CHANGE staff have found difficulties working with Crime Victims Compensation after the police initially rule the victim uncooperative. Luckily, Washington, DC is the home of another OVC-grant funded project - the Victim Legal Network of DC. Working with VLNDC, we are working on getting some legal opinions and legal advice so that Project CHANGE can work more effectively with law enforcement and Crime Victims Compensation to ensure that the victims are treated like crime victims as opposed to offenders.
What are you proudest of regarding your work through the SMSV grant? Standing up a coordinated, multi-site project in the District has taken a lot of persistence and patience, as well as the ability to work with several individual hospital administrations, District agencies, federal law enforcement, and community partners. The strength of Project CHANGE is its reach and its ability to work collaboratively across the District. As a group, we are most proud of our ability to keep working despite several setbacks.
What new relationship or resource have you found to help move your work forward? Collaboration with non-traditional partners, and the ability to educate those partners is the key to Project CHANGE moving forward. From working with hospital-based human resources, to engaging District-based agencies, to forming ad hoc partnerships to arrange housing, to using Uber and Lyft for transportation, the Project CHANGE partners have used collaboration and the willingness to think creatively to move the work forward.
What is something positive a client or partner said about your work related to the SMSV grant? “We have a particular moment of time when we're able to capture and see [victims] and start to interact with them, but as we expand relationships [with violence prevention partners], and Project Change has been key in all of that, we're able to see the natural history of that violence but also the violence prevention [efforts]"
What have you learned that you will carry with you as you continue this work? Since Project CHANGE is a network of hospital-based partnerships, there is not one lesson that can carry us all through to continue this work. However, the one characteristic that all Project CHANGE partners have had to embrace is flexibility and the willingness to partner. There are many community and District-based organizations working to make the District a safer and stronger place. Project CHANGE is one piece of that larger puzzle. The success of any project or initiative is its willingness to work with all other organizations to improve the lives of the people with whom we are working.