Oh Brings Attention to City Witness Relocation Problems

On tomorrow’s program, we’ll be joined by Councilmember David Oh, who has been sounding the alarm regarding the city’s failure to provice protection and relocation to witnesses of crime.

Amongst the the witness relocation issues we’ll be discussing is the allocation of $500,000 specifically earmarked for relocating those in danger of retribution.

This issue came to a head at the most recent hearing of the Joint Committees on Public Safety and the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, when Councilmember Oh pressed the Office of Violence Prevention and the Victim Advocate for information regarding the funds. When neither office could provide a satisfactory answer, Councilmember Curtis Jones recessed the meeting until the Administration could provide an answer in full.

Hall Monitor obtained a copy of the letter the Administration sent to City Council explaining the usage of the funds, which is reprinted here in its entirety:

On Tuesday, November 22, 2022, a special hearing was convened at the request of City Council Member David Oh on the topic of relocation services and allocated funds. Testimony was provided on behalf of the Managing Director’s Office (MDO) by Adara Combs, Executive Director of the Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA), and Shondell Revell, Executive Director of the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP). At the conclusion of testimony, inquiries were made by various City Council members pertaining to the use of those funds in FY’22, the current location and balance of the remaining funds, and how relocation services will be administered as we move forward in FY’ 23.

In FY’22 City Council allocated $500,000 to the Managing Director’s Office for relocation services. In response to receiving those funds, it was determined that placing the money with an entity the city already has an existing contract with would allow for easier distribution of funds to the relocation services already underway through The Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network (PAAN). In turn, the $500,000 was moved to the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) for distribution on an as-needed basis.

To provide context for spending, as stated during testimony, since 2019 The Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and The Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network (PAAN) have worked in partnership to address the dangers within our communities through the City’s Community Crisis Intervention Program (CCIP). As a part of the services they render, CCIP provides temporary relocation services to those who are experiencing imminent danger. The services provided vary based on the needs presented. However, given the unfortunate lack of formality and funding, those services are short-term in nature. The allocated relocation funds are currently utilized to provide temporary hotel stays and necessary life-sustaining resources such as food, clothing, and transportation, as well as necessary home-fortifying expenditures to prepare for the family’s return.

During FY’22, $62,705.56 was spent on relocation services. Since the onset of FY’ 23, we have expended $33,042.30 relocating families in imminent danger due to gun violence. However, none of the aforementioned funds have been disbursed from the monies allocated to the Managing Director’s Office by City Council specifically earmarked for relocation. The funds used were taken from existing money in the Community Crisis Intervention Program (CCIP) budget to provide direct services to the community. The $500,000 that was allocated for relocation services and placed with the Urban Affairs Coalition remains unspent, as there has not yet been a mechanism by which to meaningfully tap into those resources.

As we have navigated the administration of relocation services, it has become overtly apparent that a need for formalization and process exists to increase the efficiency by which we administer these services to the community. In partnership, we have created a proposed program model to address this need and not only increase the effectiveness of administration but to expand services beyond their current capacity which is limited to temporary relocation. We propose a formalized more robust relocation program for people who are experiencing imminent danger and who are without resources to safely remove themselves from harm. Extending services would allow us to move beyond temporary relocation where necessary and provide longer periods of service to those in need. Additionally, this iteration of relocation services would also assist with services that will aid individuals in stabilization while working towards sustainable and safe housing. The goal of this new model is to utilize the allocated funding to provide formality to the process of relocation, personnel support to ensure services are rendered, and ultimately remove families who are experiencing the direct threat of violence to safer circumstances in the most efficient way possible.

While we have discussed relocation through the lens of services provide through CCIP, there are two forms of relocation services in existence. Through the District Attorney’s Office victims and witnesses in open criminal matters can receive relocation services akin to what is considered “witness relocation”. In a commitment to ensure those funds remain available for that purpose, there will be $500,000 to support that work for the remainder of the fiscal year. Additionally, the Managing Director’s Office will allocate an additional $400,000 to the District Attorney’s Office to explore better ways to support victims and witnesses in open criminal matters with funds untethered to state resources and stipulations. Those funds do not include the $500,000 allocated by City Council to further address the growing need for relocation services. The $500,000 allocated in FY’23 to the Managing Director’s Office for victim support services will be coupled with the $500,000 that remains unspent with the Urban Affairs Coalition to build a more inclusive, more effective relocation program that will provide extended services to community members impacted by the immediate threat of gun violence.

As we move forward, the money allocated for relocation will be used to address the needs of our threatened community, by way of immediate relocation for safety purposes, identification of more permanent housing, assistance with the costs of moving, and providing support in other necessary areas. To provide this necessary service, funding is required to hire a dedicated Relocation Specialist to oversee the administration of services, contract with necessary vendors, and provide direct monetary support for community members to relocate to safety.

The model we have built contemplates the need for seventy-five (75) families to receive relocation services within this fiscal year, as well as the roughly $60,000 salary for a designated Relocation Specialist to administer services. When contemplating the myriad of needs each family may have, we intend to allocate roughly $300,000 to assist with the cost of rental fees, about $50,000 to contract with a designated moving company, and approximately $300,000 for emergency hotel stays which contemplates the higher end of time needed to identify stable housing knowing that each family’s need will present differently. Lastly, the remaining funds will be allotted for necessary expenditures such as food, clothing, transportation, and other necessary services.

The Managing Director’s Office remains eager to build the pilot program for relocation with the allocated funds in partnership with our community agencies.

During testimony last week, there were questions regarding the services provided to the ten (10) families Council Member Oh sought to refer during FY’22 for use of the allocated funds. To date, the Managing Director’s Office has not received the necessary information to assist all those families. We would like to extend an invitation to the Councilmember, in partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, to determine how to best provide services to these families.

At last week’s session of council, Oh explained he found the response unsatisfactory for reasons he will share with us tomorrow on Hall Monitor.

When Hall Monitor followed up with the Administration regarding Oh’s concerns, we received the following response:

Instead of standing up a separate new office, the Administration and MDO made a decision to use the funding in the Budget that provides supports for shooting victims–including relocation–to increase funding for the existing organizations that currently do this work, including the DA’s Office and PAAN. In the MidYear transfer ordinance passed yesterday by City Council, there will be $1 million in funding dedicated to this purpose.

Hall Monitor will have much more coverage of this story tomorrow at 6 PM.

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