Neighborhoods where people have strong bonds can help prevent gun violence, a new study indicates. And conversely, in communities where people are estranged, gun violence is more likely to occur.
“Violence results in chronic community-level trauma and stress, and undermines health, capacity, and productivity in these neighborhoods,” says lead author Dr. Emily Wang, assistant professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, in a news release. Other researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (RWJF CSP) participated in the study as well. “Police and government response to the problem has focused on the victim or the criminal. Our study focuses on empowering communities to combat the effects of living with chronic and persistent gun violence.”
Wang and her colleagues looked at neighborhoods in New Haven, CT, which have high crime statistics. In the Newhallville and West River neighborhoods of New Haven, they trained 17 residents on how to research and survey residents to obtain data on 300 of their neighbors. This so-called “community-based participatory research” was done in the summer of this year.
The residents found that more than half of neighbors surveyed didn’t know any or only a few of their neighbors. The majority had heard gun shots, and two-thirds of them had a friend or family member who was hurt by a violent act. Almost 60 percent had a friend or family member killed by gun violence.
“Our study is a community-based and community-driven intervention to prevent and reduce the negative effects of gun violence in the communities affected by high rates of gun violence by strengthening social ties, bonds, resilience, or in other words, by ‘putting neighbor back in hood,’” says Ann Greene, community research liaison for the RWJF CSP at Yale and chair of the West River Community Resilience Team.
Wang says the strength of bonds between neighbors was found to be inversely associated with exposure to gun violence. To prevent gun violence, a multi-sector approach including community members is required.
“Disaster preparedness principles like community resilience can be used to improve a community’s ability to band together and use resources to respond to, withstand, recover from, and even grow from bad events,” says Wang. “Core components of these principles include social and economic well being, physical and psychological health, effective risk communication, social connectedness, and integration with organizations.”
Newhallville and West River community resilience team leaders are continuing to work with the Yale investigators. They are sharing data with their communities and asking for their participation on how to strengthen social ties in their neighborhoods. The team will work with other organizations and city leaders to put community-member suggestions into action.