By Harrison Golden | WDSU | March 9, 2022
NEW ORLEANS — Rose Preston spent years fantasizing about getting revenge on the person who killed her husband and mother-in-law in 2003. She felt panicked and alone. Certain triggers still spark unease, like the fact that her wedding anniversary was Tuesday.
Ariel Jeanjacques’ nightmare still resurfaces in her mind once in a while. Her nephew and cousin were murdered within about a year of one another. Monday marked six years since her nephew’s death.
“It’s just hard to wake up,” Jeanjacques said. “We need a safe place after experiencing such tragic loss just to come together and feel supported, loved, like our stories are important.”
The two women shared their stories Tuesday morning before the New Orleans City Council’s criminal justice committee. They also urged council members to support building a trauma recovery center in the city.
Trauma recovery centers are venues where violent crime survivors — and their relatives — can access mental health counseling, financial guidance, legal aid, housing help and employment assistance. Unlike other facilities, these centers provide such offerings free of charge regardless of insurance status.
“Time is of the essence with this,” Preston said. “We know we don’t have enough resources and TRCs are a way to bring more resources, especially to those who fall through the gaps.”
“We have so much trauma in New Orleans,” said Simone Levine with Trauma Recovery Centers NOLA, an advocacy group leading the push toward opening a center.
Indeed, violent crime has surged in New Orleans of late. The Metropolitan Crime Commission tallies a 71% homicide spike, a 232% increase in shootings, a 471% surge in carjackings and a 68% armed robbery uptick between March 6, 2019, and March 6, 2022.
Levine shared estimates that clients at such facilities are twice as likely to use mental health services as usual care patients, adding they are almost twice as likely to cooperate with district attorneys to solve crimes. She cited trauma recovery centers in San Francisco and Miami as models.
“If we think trauma doesn’t affect crime, if we think that untreated trauma doesn’t affect people getting back to work and our physical health, we’ve got to really rethink that,” she said.
Levine told the committee that a trauma recovery center would cost about $1 million to operate. Her group, Trauma Recovery Centers NOLA, is seeking funds from city, state and private stakeholders.
Exactly how much money the city government will offer remains unclear. But near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, all members of the city council’s criminal justice committee agreed to sign a letter of support for the proposal.
“I think we have such a focus as a city on punishing individuals who commit the crime, we do so often at the expense of the victim in that we’re not making sure the victim is taken care of,” Councilman-at-Large J.P. Morrell said.
Other specifics — including the proposed center’s location, facility size and staffing — remain in the works as well. But supporters say if upcoming steps mirror Tuesday’s reception, the city’s violent crime survivors will have a place to feel heard.
“I think all those years ago, if I had had the support of someone in the psychological realm, it would have helped alleviate so much of the pain,” Preston said.
“This is just a cycle that needs to end,” Jeanjacques said.