Chicago has a long history of violence going back at least until the 1930’s with Al Capone and his cronies. Thus, in some ways, the data brief released today by the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System isn’t that surprising. Violence has been entrenched in some neighborhoods as demonstrated in the data brief, but from Chicago’s past history, we know that it is mutable. For example, today the community area of Lincoln Park has very few homicides, although within a few blocks of our old hospital, Children’s Memorial, John Dillinger was shot in an alley aside the Biograph Theater and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre occurred on Clark Street.
The neighborhoods in this brief are similarly not destined for inevitable violence. The solution isn’t complicated—we need to invest in youth, families, communities and create policies that support them. The greatest challenge, I think, is creating sustained investment in an era when 140 characters can seem too long.
There has been increasing awareness that community violence is, in part, a symptom of lack of economic and educational opportunities, frayed social connectedness, and sub-standard physical environments. These root causes of community violence also contribute to other manifestations of poor health such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Within Chicago, life span varies over 15 years between just a few el stops. Our zip code has become more important to our health than our genetic code.
Until recently, hospitals thought their responsibility to health was to provide the best care possible to their patients once they got to their door. With a better understanding of how much community affects one’s health, hospitals are realizing the need to go outside the hospital walls and partner with the community in meaningful ways including hiring locally, investing locally and buying locally. Improving the economic vitality of a community will go a long way in making it a healthier place to live.
One example of hospital community engagement is the West Side Total Health Collaborative. Led by Rush University Medical Center in partnership with community leaders, universities, schools and other hospitals, including Lurie Children’s, the Collaborative is focusing on eight west side community areas, four of which have the highest rates of homicide in the city.
Thus, the takeaway from this data brief should not be that nothing can be done to prevent community violence because collective, multi-sector, upstream efforts to address root causes are already well on their way. This data brief serves to inform us where we have been and future data briefs will help us monitor our efforts.