Abbotsford’s In It Together gang prevention and intervention program will be able to keep its doors open with a skeleton crew, after a $1-million funding announcement from the B.C. government.
But support workers with the program say the funds, spread over three years, are far below the $1.26 million in annual funding from the federal government that dried up after Sept. 30 last year.
In It Together had been encouraged to reapply for the same federal funding in April, but program case manager Wanda Phillips says the funding stream that supplied In It Together typically only runs for five years as a research project.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was at an ACS branch in Abbotsford Tuesday morning to announce the new round of funding for In It Together. He also announced $225,000 over three years for a program directed at South Asian girls and young women, which Phillips said was not new money, but did provide three years of security for a program that typically needed to apply annually for funding.
Abbotsford Police Department Chief Cst. Mike Serr said the funding is in recognition of the need not only for enforcement on gang matters, but also for prevention and intervention strategies to help youths leave gangs or not join gangs in the first place.
“That doesn’t mean enforcement isn’t incredibly valuable, but we do need to invest in these programs and continue to do so,” Serr said.
“Unfortunately, what I do know is that too many young men and women are still drawn into that gang lifestyle, and I think we all know just how deadly that lifestyle is.”
Altogether, the funding adds up to less than a third of the program’s original funding, which curbs the program’s ability to have a strong presence in schools and cuts some programs altogether Simone Maassen, youth services manager at Abbotsford Community Services, which runs In It Together.
“The safer schools teacher was part of the program that was funded by the grants; that will be gone,” Maassen said. “The John Howard Society, they did re-entry for young people who came out of jail for gang-related sentences; that piece is completely gone. So there’s parts that were with community partners that are not even part of it anymore.”
Phillips added that the program’s counselling, music therapy and group programs are no longer available due to the limited funding.
Currently, the program has a waitlist of about 27 people, as support workers triage referrals based on vulnerability. Still, having some funding is better than no funding, said Maassen.
“The thought of having to close our doors completely and there will be absolutely nothing for those youth and those families was, I think, very, very frightening to all of us,” Maassen said.
As it stands, the program has five positions, compared with 14 previously.
Officials with the program are continually looking for more funding elsewhere, but without further provincial or federal funds available, Maassen said the program currently does not have any leads on potential sources.