WOODLAND HILLS : $1.3 Million Given for Violence Think Tank

A Woodland Hills-based foundation has awarded a $1.3-million grant to create a youth-violence think tank in San Francisco. Backers hope the new Pacific Center will lead a push to address youth violence as a preventable disease rather than a criminal problem.

Gary Yates, senior program officer with the California Wellness Foundation, said the $1.3 million-per-year grant is the first of $24 million the foundation will award in the next few years to prevent youth violence.

The money is a windfall at a time when state and federal funds are hard to come by, said Susan Sorenson, associate director of the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center at UCLA. UCLA received $200,000 of $900,000 granted to six institutions to support research fellows for the Pacific Center.

Sorenson said she knows of no other sources of public funds for violence prevention comparable to the Wellness Foundation. Its grants "will put California in the forefront of developing knowledge and expertise in this field," she said.

The Wellness Foundation funds are the result of a deal state officials struck with the Health Net, which dropped its nonprofit status last year. In exchange for access to capital markets, Health Net, the former HMO, was required to contribute about $300 million to the foundation over 15 years and grant the foundation majority ownership of its stock.

Yates said the foundation could have spent its money on any health-related problem, but in numerous focus groups--and in meetings with emergency-room doctors weary of treating knife and gunshot wounds--the same issue surfaced repeatedly: youth violence.

"This particular issue is at such a crisis," Yates said. "This foundation wants to look at violence as a public health problem, as an epidemic that needs to be treated."

Studying violence as a health, rather than as a criminal, problem has become increasingly in vogue: Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has approved creation of an office devoted to violence and injury issues, Sorenson said.

The Pacific Center is being set up this month in its new quarters at the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital. Yates said the center will begin with a staff of a dozen who will compile lists of community groups and resources and train community leaders to deal with the media.

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