February 16, 2024 - United Response, which offers financial assistance to families who have lost a loved one to homicide, has helped five families already this year.

That’s two less than the number of families assisted all of last year, according to information the city of Fort Wayne provided Friday.

Allen County has already had six homicides this year, based on rulings from the local coroner’s office. Last year, the county had 31.

The city’s Fort Wayne United initiative launched United Response in September 2021 to offer stipends to help families of homicide victims cover burial expenses. It was designed to work in partnership with the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Victim Assistance Unit.

The number of homicides so far this year has shaken many community members, partly because most of the victims have been teens or young adults.

A community prayer vigil, supported by multiple organizations including Alive Community Outreach and Associated Churches, is scheduled for today in response to the recent violence. The Harmony and Healing vigil will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon at New Covenant Worship Center, 3420 E. Paulding Road.

Twelve churches or organizations have contributed funds to the United Response program. When it was launched, city officials had not determined the level of financial assistance families could receive.

Families of murdered children 15 years and older receive $2,500. Families with murdered children 10 to 15 years old receive $5,000. If the homicide victim is younger than 10, United Response will pay for the entire funeral. The city reviews applications before funds are released, an official said in an email response.

“United Response embodies the power of compassion and solidarity by providing support to families of homicide victims, lightening their burden during the darkest of times,” program director Greggory Smith-Causey said in a statement.

The city declined to say how much money has been raised for United Response, but Smith-Causey said covering part of funeral expenses allows families to focus on healing and remembrance.

Another support program that predates United Response is Fort Wayne United’s Meals 4 Healing. In partnership with Parkview Health and Victim Assistance, that program was developed in 2018.

Three families, totaling 16 people, have received meal support this year, according to the city. Last year, that program helped five families, or 27 individuals.

“While we wish such programs didn’t need to exist,” Smith-Causey said, “they stand as beacons of hope and support within our communities, showcasing the resilience and empathy that unites us all.”

Note: This article was featured in the February 16, 2024 edition of The Journal Gazette