The Latino organization Enlace Chicago has increased its efforts to combat street violence in the Windy City, where in the first six months of the year there were 259 homicides with 44 of the victims being young Hispanics.

"They are victims that we don't deserve," Enlace director Michael Gutierrez told Efe in discussing the work that is being carried out mainly in Chicago's La Villita/Little Village neighborhood.

The organization began operations in 1990 as a group of community leaders concerned about the neighborhood's development. In 1998, it opened an office to begin implementing programs dedicated to serving some 5,000 young people in an area of 100,000 residents.

Gutierrez said that in the 1990s there were an average of 30 to 35 violent deaths a year in La Villita and last year there were 15.

Enlace Chicago creates programs in the schools that attend to youths who are "prone to being victims or offenders."

"The emphasis is that they continue in school and not in the gangs," he said.

Thalia Almazan, a young resident of the neighborhood, said that "there are lots of gang members out there" and often there are gunshots exchanged between different groups. "Unfortunately, it's the truth. This is how we live."

Another resident of La Villita, Cynthia Gutierrez, demanded the installation of more security cameras because she feels that, with them in place, "people would behave better."

Enlace Chicago has been working since 2006 with the Chicago Violence Prevention Project, known as CeaseFire, which employs former gangbangers and ex-convicts to help combat street violence.

CeaseFire this year will receive $1 million from the municipality to hire 40 people to mediate in conflicts in the Ogden and Grand Crossing districts, which are the most violent in South Chicago.

The gang members and other criminals with whom CeaseFire works to resolve conflicts have no trust in the authorities.

Director Tio Hardiman said that the group will not do anything different from what it normally does in its interventions. "We're also not going to make ourselves into police informants," he said.

The CeaseFire project, inaugurated by Hardiman in 2004, was the subject of the documentary "The Interrupters" produced in 2011 that tells the story of three of its workers, among them Latino Eddie Bocanegra, a former gang member who spent 14 years in prison for murder.

The three share their experiences with street violence and the efforts to steer young people away from gangs. EFE