RICHMOND, Va. — Standing under the shade of a large tree in the Whitcomb Court neighborhood in Richmond, Sheba Williams reflected on the generations of her family who grew up in and near the public housing community and how her current work can help address long standing health issues there.
“This is where my family was raised,” Williams said. “Substance use has impacted our family ever since I can remember. My parents were incarcerated at the age of ten because when they suffered from substance abuse disorder incarceration was the answer. Right now, the solution is the support we give to people in the community.”
Her organization, Nolef Turns, helps recently released incarcerated people with housing and substance use recovery. They were one of three local groups to receive the first round of funding from Richmond’s new Health Equity Fund.
Using $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money, Richmond launched Virginia’s first grant program that sends money to local groups and individuals working on the ground to address health disparities in disadvantaged communities. The newly launched initiative is only the third of its kind in the nation, city leaders said.
Health experts said data show economically disadvantaged communities and people of color see worse healthcare outcomes in many areas, something made worse by the pandemic.
“If we really care about the lives of people who are coming out of incarceration, the people who are in our recovery community, then we know we have to continue funding these efforts to make sure their lives are saved,” Williams said.
“This is the kind of investment we must make to establish health equity for our most vulnerable communities,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said during Thursday’s announcement of the initial recipients. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s long overdue, and I’m glad that we’re involved and engaged, and there is much more to come."
The first $230,000 will be allocated this way, according to the Richmond Henrico Health District, a group that helps manage the fund:
- $50,000 to Crossover Healthcare Ministry (https://www.crossoverministry.org/) to provide additional bilingual medical assistance and increase capacity
- $90,000 to Nolef Turns to provide crisis and transitional shelter assistance to Richmond residents returning from incarceration with an increased likelihood of engaging in substance use
- $90,000 to Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (https://www.rbha.org/) to provide clinical mental health services in two to three of RHHD’s satellite Resource Center clinics located in public housing and lower-income communities
“This is not some perfunctory activity. This is about life and death. This is about health and well being, and the fact that the leadership in our city, in our communities, and our health district are stepping up and saying now is the time, we’re the ones who are going to do something about this,” Richmond City Council President Cynthia Newbille said. “In this moment, not just today, not just next year, but ongoing. This is generational, historical, longstanding. So that’s the challenge, but the good news is we decided to do something about it in Richmond with this health equity fund."
The remaining $4.6 million will go out to other organizations and individuals in the coming years through rounds of nominations. Those who receive the grants must have the capacity to “engage in new projects or expand existing work to promote health equity and racial justice,” according to RHHD.
Stoney said since the initial funding was tied to the American Rescue Plan Act, the initial funding must go out by 2026. Since many of the health disparities facing communities are generational problems and the initial funding came from one-time federal investment, CBS 6 asked city leaders what strategies they plan to employ long-term.
“If we want to make real impact in the lives of those affected by COVID-19 but also the long-term effects of injustice, we know this has to be sustainable,” Stoney said. “I think it’s incumbent upon those who are in office today to ensure that this is something we do all the time. This is what Richmond does. This can’t time out after 2026.”
“We’re going to go to our philanthropic partners as well, whether its foundations or corporations, for the long-term,” Newbille said.
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