A program that used social workers, peer supporters and other wraparound services to work with police to help reduce crime along the Eutaw Street corridor near Lexington Market officially opened its first office space Friday.

The Embrace Resource Center, a partnership between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and several community organizations and city agencies, is credited with reducing crime over a three-year period, but never had its own home until it moved into the building at 55 N. Paca Street.

The city as a whole saw one of the largest “year-over-year” drops in killings in its history, recording its lowest homicide total since 2014. Mayor Brandon Scott said Friday at a news conference that he sees the strategy used by the center as an example of how his administration’s focus on community-based violence intervention can work.

“If you want to reduce something or have something go away temporarily, do it the quick way. But if you want it to be sustainable, we have to do it the right way,” Scott said. “And this is the right way, making sure that we see the individuals and its neighbors who are struggling with whatever they’re struggling with as humans.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The center’s partners include non-profit community organization the Peace Team, the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Baltimore Markets and university police.

Bruce Jarrell, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore, said the university was committed to develop community resources to uplift the program, noting the region is home to several mainstays in the city including CFG Bank arena and Lexington Market.

In 2020, city and state grants poured $40 million into renovating Lexington Market, said Kyla Liggett-Creel, executive director of the center. Yet, she added, the community surrounding it was living with the “effects of systemic oppression and racism,” lacking access to resources including drug treatment, medical care, housing and employment.

The university, Liggett-Creel said, invested $650,000 to contract 14 people, including a social worker and peer recovery specialist, for the initiative. As part of their work, the center uses credible messengers – case managers who have similar lived experience to those they are serving – peer recovery specialists, social worker to provide services that lead to preventing violence.

Since the initiative started in 2021, the number of people openly selling drugs in the neighborhood dropped from an average of 25 to 5. Violent crime has also decreased in the area. A Baltimore Banner analysis found that homicides are down in the neighborhoods surrounding Lexington Market and the university, including Downtown and Hollins Market.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

In the past three years, the center has engaged with more than 4,000 people, said Marvin Garner, a peer recovery specialist. They were able to help 200 people find employment, and most of them are still holding a job. The center also helped 130 people get into drug treatment, of which he says at least 120 are still actively involved in the recovery process. Dozens have also been connected with shelters and programs supporting permanent housing.

“If we’re going to be able to assist the people, we have to first understand that we are a village and when one of us hurts, we all hurt,” Garner said. “Now where how do we go from being hurt to actually being healed? We heal to love, respect and dignity. When a person comes into this facility, the first thing that we do is make a welcome.”

Ryan Heynes, a former case manager at the center, said much of the work involves breaking the barriers that keep their clients from accessing resources. He adds that with the work social workers and community organizers, as well as university police, has done will lead the neighborhood to be a great community.

Garner came back to Heynes’ point after several minutes. Heynes, Garner said, has been part of the program from the inception of this initiative and Garner rarely disagrees with him. But he has to at this time.

“This is a magnificent community,” Garner said.

Clara Longo de Freitas is a neighborhood reporter covering East Baltimore communities. Before joining the Banner, she interned at The Baltimore Sun as an emerging news and community reporter. She also has design and illustration experience with several news organizations, including The Hill and NPR. 

More From The Banner