NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A newly formed county department aimed at combating community violence has opened a new branch of its network. Port City United launched PCU Connect to offer support for individuals 24/7.
“Asking for help is hard for so many reasons,” PCU Connect supervisor Rashad Gattison said in a press release. “First, it can be difficult to actually say, ‘I need help.’ Sometimes you don’t know who to ask, where to turn or what to ask for. That’s where we come in.”
The help line serves as an additional resource for community members to utilize and all calls remain confidential. People can report threats of violence anonymously or address concerns that 911 or mental health hotlines do not.
(However, PCU Connect is not an emergency hotline; anyone undergoing a mental health crisis to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.)
Specialists are trained to be a conduit between the community and local nonprofit organizations, food banks, mental health resources, housing assistance and more.
“Our staff knows this community,” Gattison said in the release. “We know the service providers in our area and what they can do. Our goal is to make sure those who call us know they’ve reached out to a confidential place where they can get connected to the help they need quickly.”
Port City United began operations last month after the county allocated roughly $39 million to the initiative. The division formed following the August shooting at New Hanover High and was devised on the evidence-based Cure Violence Global model. It focuses on detecting and interrupting violent situations, identifying and changing behaviors of people at the highest risk of engaging in violence and changing mores that perpetuate violence.
Part of PCU’s plan also includes placing 22 case workers in seven at-risk schools to seek long-term fixes for families and students in need. They will be placed in International School at Gregory, Snipes Academy of Art and Design, Forest Hills Global Elementary, Rachel Freeman School of Engineering, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, Williston Middle School and New Hanover High School.
It also will work with resource coordinators from Communities In Schools of Cape Fear, Voyage and Leading Into New Communities.
PCU hired Cedric Harrison as its executive director in March.
“In our strategic plan, we outline clearly that we want individuals to connect with comprehensive solutions that don’t just address their problems short term, but help them sustain the ability to be successful in the long run, steering them away from the need to use violence,” Harrison said in the release.
According to previous Port City Daily reporting, PCU Connect originally was planned as a place where experts could monitor threats or scour social media for potential escalating situations. Instead, the call center is an intermediary for community members — Harrison noted PCU employees already “know what’s going on.”
“When Port City United was established as a department to address violence in our county, we knew that looking at the root cause of where violence stems from had to be a priority,”Harrison said in a press release.
Harrison told Port City Daily in April, he wasn’t sure what resources PCU could guarantee but the county confirmed starting in fiscal year 2023, it would budget an additional $1.2 million for nonprofits to ramp up their services.
PCU Connect can be reached by calling 910-798-4444.
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