The community coordinator of the In It Together (IIT) program of Abbotsford Community Services was among the speakers at the Summit on Gun and Gang Violence in Ottawa on March 7.
Alison Gutrath shared the successes of the local program during the event hosted by the Ministry of Public Safety.
Gutrath works with an integrated team to disrupt the flow of young people into organized crime or gang.
IIT works with the John Howard Society, the Abbotsford Police, and the school district to support youth and their families with resisting or leaving gangs.
Since the program began in 2013, staff have provided prevention, intervention and re-entry support to 355 young adults ages 12 to 30 and more than 1,000 family members.
Participants usually spend more than a year in the program and there have been over 15,000 hours of one-to-one youth outreach work.
Gutrath’s speech highlighted some of the individual success stories of participants.
In one case, a youth who had been exposed to domestic violence and trauma had started dealing drugs. After his entire family worked with the program, he was ultimately advised to relocate for his own safety.
“This is an extreme case, but at the end of the day, he is alive, no longer dealing and not in jail,” Gutrath said.
Another participant was supported after he finished his sentence for gang-related crimes and was able to obtain his GED, find employment and housing.
Now a parent, he gives complete credit to the program for helping him avoid getting roped back into gang life. Overall, formal evaluations have shown a 54 per cent decrease in total risk scores among participants.
Gutrath acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done around the Lower Mainland gang conflict.
“We’re in a peak time for gang violence. Changing attitudes and risk factors for youth, along with community perceptions in the shorter term, can lead to reduced gang activity in the long term.”
The client base for IIT is diverse with South Asian (64 per cent) and Aboriginal (22 per cent) clients. Several staff members are fluent in Punjabi so they can offer culturally specific support to youth and family members.
“Our successes are when young adults don’t make the news for crime and we measure positive actions such as finishing high school, staying out of jail and changing attitudes towards gangs,” Gutrath said.
A common concern in presentations and round table discussions at the summit was the lack of sustained funding for several prevention programs across Canada.
While the federal government announced $327.6 million in funding for anti-gun and gang initiatives in November 2017 at a Surrey press conference, the process for applying for the funding has been unclear.
Currently, In It Together, has not secured funding to continue after the five-year mark in September.
“September is our busiest time as youth go back to school and even a small interruption in our services will set us back considerably,” Gutrath said.
In the meantime, referrals are still being accepted and staff are supporting youth and families to meet their goals over the next six months.
Gutrath is hopeful the summit has reinforced the importance of preventive measures like the In It Together program.