Profiles in Justice: Shakina DeShazor, CARES Administrative Manager
For Shakina DeShazor, Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis is personal. After losing her brother to homicide in 2018, she joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors (CARES) program as a Peer Crisis Responder (PCR) to help other families touched by tragedy.
“Our family had no idea what the resources that the City of Philadelphia provides to co-victims — things like counseling, reimbursement of funeral expenses, and other resources,” DeShazor says. “I wanted to make sure other families don’t have to go through that on top of the grief they’re already feeling.”
With more than two decades of experience in social service, including outpatient work at two substance use disorder treatment facilities, DeShazor was quickly promoted to Administrative Manager for CARES. Also a volunteer with the Girls and Boys Club of Philadelphia, she still gains satisfaction from helping families navigate complicated criminal justice and survivor support systems.
“The rewarding things that I like about it are that we are helping people work through their trauma. It feels good that we can advocate for these families and help them get through what they’re trying to do in terms of making funeral arrangements, finding out what the next court date is, or providing an update on an arrest. It feels good to help someone in need, who barely wants to get up the next morning after the death of a loved one.”
That uplifting feeling of assisting people who are likely enduring the worst moment of their lives comes with the difficult experience of witnessing the range of emotions that accompany deep pain.
CARES is a first-of-its-kind program for the Philadelphia region. The CARES team mission is to respond immediately to co-victims of homicide — even if police haven’t made an arrest, making prosecution impossible — and to provide them with support for the next two months, often the most difficult time for families who have experienced the violent loss of a loved one.
Earlier in the pandemic, CARES team members were no longer allowed to respond to crime scenes or enter hospitals to meet with family members immediately following a homicide. Since COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, CARES has resumed going back out into communities to support survivors directly, in addition to exercising phone and virtual contact options to make sure families get help navigating supports including free counseling services and Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) funding.
DeShazor says that CARES has started to “test the waters” in terms of hospital visitations with homicide co-victims; some hospitals allow PCRs to enter, while others do not. But the DAO remains vigilant about the virus and is prepared for a variety of scenarios, including if transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant worsens.
DeShazor has two children she cares for, and she enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.