With a four-day-old snowfall covering the ground outside, Genae Carney sits at a conference room table in West Baltimore with a computer in front of her and an iPhone at her ear, but it is hard to hear the woman on the other end of the call.
“Do you have earphones on?” Carney asks.
The woman fumbles with something, and asks if Carney can hear her better. “You still kinda sound distant, but I can work with it,” Carney says.
Carney begins asking the woman a series of questions as part of the intake form she has to fill out for new clients.
“Have you been physically assaulted?” Yes. “Have you been a victim of domestic violence?” Yes. “Have you ever been involved in terrorism?” No. More questions. Does the woman go to church? Yes. Where? New Psalmist in Lochearn.
“How do you like New Psalmist?” Carney asks. “I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve heard great things.”
Still more questions. Does the woman have any talents? She likes to cook. What does she need? She needs therapy to deal with her depression and she would like to move somewhere else. Somewhere safe.
“She’s still in the grieving stages,” Carney says after hanging up. The woman, whom The Baltimore Banner is not naming because she is a victim of a crime, reached out to the mayor’s office after her son was killed in December. Maybe Roberta’s House, a nonprofit specializing in family grief counseling, can help, Carney said.
A community coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE), Carney is part of a six-person team whose job it is to connect crime victims in the city with services ranging from therapy to help with bills and finding work. Sometimes it’s smaller things like taking care of a parking ticket, as the office did for the family of Pava LaPere after they received a citation when they went to the scene of LaPere’s death in September.
In October, MONSE’s office moved from its offices in City Hall to a building in the Mosher neighborhood that was once the old Hebrew Orphan Asylum and later a Lutheran hospital. (Carney and her coworkers joke about it being haunted.) Led by Mark Mason, a services veteran who came over from the city health department, the mayor’s victim services office helped 163 people in 2023, its first full year in existence.
Mason is a bald, burly man with a big beard who ends his sentences by asking “right” and is constantly on the phone with people who need his help. He has intimate knowledge of each case his office takes up. Every week, Mason, Carney and Tierra Morales, a social services coordinator, go over a list of active clients and figure out what their next steps are. Their names are listed on a spreadsheet and are color-coded from red to green based on how long MONSE has had a line of communication with them.
If you’re new to MONSE, your name is in red and the goal is for someone from the office to reach out at least once a week. Those are the critical clients. Most names are in red. Everyone on the list tends to have a few things in common: They’re predominantly women or children, and they’ve either been shot, are related to someone who was, or have witnessed a shooting.
“What are we doing for them? What are we doing for their mental health?” Mason would repeatedly ask Morales and Carney.
Sometimes the victims don’t want to take the help, but Mason’s staff will try anyway. “My biggest thing is I care too much, right? I had to learn working in this field is that I can’t want something for someone more than they want it for themselves,” Morales said. Take the teenager who was a witness to a shooting and is in danger of falling in with the wrong crowd, for example.
“We gotta get him connected with something positive,” Mason instructed Morales. “Make sure you have that conversation in front of him when you’re talking to his mom.”
It’s not possible for victim services to connect with every single shooting victim — a lot of the clients sought out the office — but the emphasis on that sort of work marks improvement for the city after a scathing 2021 report from the National Public Safety Partnership that found shooting victims in Baltimore are grossly mistreated. Often, the report found, police would treat victims like suspects, exacerbating their trauma.
Victim services staff said it’s helpful that they are not with the police department, but that there is still serious government mistrust among Baltimore’s African American community. One way of bridging that mistrust is showing up in positive settings with the community, Carney said.
A big part of the job, according to Victim Services manager Laneese Baylor, is doing little things. When someone is helped, Baylor said, word gets around and more people come calling.
Recently, Baylor had been working on updating a resume for a woman who lost her home in a fire.
“I sent it to an employer already,” Baylor said. “I’m just waiting to see what positions they have open.”