Beset by budget problems and the death of arguably its most effective employee, the street violence intervention program One Vision One Life was forced to close after eight years of advocacy.
It begun in 2003 as an initiative of Allegheny County’s Department of Human Service, funded through federal grants, the program was the brainchild of Richard Garland, a former gang member from Philadelphia who sought to use other former gang members to quell street-level disputes before they escalated into shootings.
The organization was also known for the vigils it held for victims of gun violence in Pittsburgh and throughout the county. Its most visible asset in all these efforts was El Gray, an ex-offender from the North Side, who had been doing outreach to at-risk youths even before One Vision One Life was created.
Gray, died of cancer in 2011, but the organization had stopped holding vigils following a RAND Corp. report that said they were ineffective in preventing violence. By that time the organization had incorporated as a nonprofit, relying mostly on grants from local foundations.
Still, as the Courier reported in 2010, the organization had a $1.2 million budget, and had been continuing its street-level intervention work after being incorporated into the city’s Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime anti-gang program.
The prolonged recession, however, led to decreasing budgets, which Garland told the local paper last month ultimately forced the closure.
“It’s the economy right now,” he said. “We had some groups pull funding and we don’t have the funds to stay in business.”
Last year’s budget was $500,000. This year, One Vision did not even renew its $75,000 city contract for the coming year, and received only $25,000 from the Buhl Foundation to assist in shutting down and moving programs to other nonprofits.
Garland, who has taken a position as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is currently evaluating anti-violence programs employed in other cities.
Khalid Raheem, director of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, who has been convening weekly meeting of community groups to develop a coordinated anti-violence response, said losing Once Vision One Life is a blow.
“It’s a real shame,” he said. “We are looking at trying to do some street-level work, but without the juice that Richard and El had, I don’t know.”
PIRC Coordinator Jay Gilmer said One Vision closing is a big loss in terms of outreach.
“It’s an important part of our program and we need to replace it,” he said. “We need something that does what it did.”