St. Paul officials are seeking applicants for up to $1 million in grants geared toward community-based programs with the goal of curbing gun violence.

A request for grant proposals issued this February describes how officials are seeking programs that support health and well-being in the city, adding that those programs must "reduce barriers to safety by disrupting gun violence, youth violence, and group-based and structural violence trends."

Up to 10 organizations will be awarded a grant, earning between $87,450 and nearly $175,000 to be distributed over two years. Grant applications are due March 22.

Office of Neighborhood Safety Director Brooke Blakey said this request for grant proposals is one of up to three planned for the near future. Others may focus on group violence, structural violence and youth violence, but Blakey said they started with gun violence because of its deep and disparate impact on residents.

"As we continue to see a decrease in gun [homicides], we still see a lot of gunplay and a lot of gun activity," Blakey said. "Gun violence impacts communities of color and disparately impacts young African-American males. It's very important for the Office of Neighborhood Safety to really focus on that as that's what the community has been asking for."

A new dashboard by the Minnesota Department of Health shows how violent deaths have affected residents between 2015 and 2020. According to that data, firearms were involved in 2,678 people's deaths. The leading way that people died from firearms was suicide, followed by homicide. Black residents made up 14% of all firearm deaths — about double what the U.S. Census Bureau says is their share of the state's population (7.4%).

White residents made up more total deaths (2,129 / 79.5%), but represented 4% less than their share of Minnesota's population (83%).

In St. Paul, four of the city's six homicides this year were by gunfire. Last year, the vast majority of the city's record 40 homicides were by gunfire.

Lynnaia Jacobsen, manager for the city's Neighborhood Safety Community Council, says that communities should be involved in solving such disparities across St. Paul. The request for grant proposals reflects that by scoring applicants on their history of working with city residents, and on whether the proposal involves community education.

"A lot of these groups, we're looking for them to actually live in the communities. Then they're more invested and they have an insight on what changes they think would be[come] the best programs to bring forth change and reduce gun violence," Jacobsen said. "We don't want outside voices deciding what's best for our community in St. Paul."

The deadline for appropriating grant funds, which are supported in part by dollars awarded to the city by the U.S. Department of Treasury, is December 2024. Those funds must be spent by 2026.