Federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks to a crowd of dozens of parents at a fundraiser event for the In It Together program, which lost its federal funding, likely at least until April, on Sunday. (Submitted photo)

De-funded Abbotsford anti-gang program gains $100,000 commitment

In It Together previously forced to wait-list referrals and close 100 case files, despite $15k fundraiser

The United Way has committed $100,000 to an Abbotsford anti-gang program that lost its federal funding early this week, just a few days after concerned parents raised over $15,000 for the program.

The United Way of the Lower Mainland announced the funding Thursday morning in Burnaby for the In It Together program in Abbotsford, which provides supports for youth in gangs or at-risk of joining gangs.

“United Way’s commitment means we did not have to close our doors this weekend,” said Alison Gutrath, In It Together community co-ordinator, in a news release following the United Way announcement. “This investment will ensure youth at risk of gang involvement — and their families — get the support they need, while we continue to seek additional supports to keep our program operating during our funding gap.”

RELATED: Abbotsford anti-gang youth program losing vital funding

In an interview earlier in the week, Gutrath said the program was going to run on private donations, which she said are typically month-to-month and unstable for providing a consistent program. Gutrath estimated the program had to wait-list “well over a dozen” new referrals and has had to close dozens more cases ahead of the funding cut over last weekend.

“Limited capacity to the point where it’s like we’re not able to take new clients; they’re just doing follow-up for clients they had to close that still could use some support,” Gutrath said.

“We had over 100 youth that we closed over the summer. … I know that there is a number of youth — at least 40 — within our program who really should not have been closed at all.”

According to the joint United Way-In It Together news release, 427 participants aged 12-30 since April 2014 showed a 95 per cent engagement rate, becoming involved in the program for the long term. And of those in the program, officials estimate a 54 per cent decrease in total risk scores after 20 months.

RELATED: Local gang prevention worker speaks at national conference

And the issue of gangs has been pressing in the Abbotsford area, which together with Mission, was home to the second highest crime rate in Canada last year in an enduring Lower Mainland gang conflict. Recently, three homicides have been reported in as many months.

That includes the death of 19-year-old Varinderpal Gill, known to be affiliated with local gangs, Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the funding announcement.

Though staff continued to follow up with youth from the program, Gutrath said before Thursday’s announcement that the bulk of the funding is coming from private donations, such as Sunday’s event.

RELATED: Funding is runningout for Abbotsford gang-prevention program

“But it’s really a month-to-month basis at this point, and that is very difficult. That is not best practice. That is not a way of creating a safer community, that’s not a good way of really supporting youth ongoing and really increasing public safety in our community,” Gutrath said.

“Our hope was that government would find an alternative interim source for funding, and that hasn’t come through,” Gutrath said, adding that the potential funding for April won’t be confirmed — or denied — until likely November or early December.

Gutrath said In It Together has had meetings with provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and federal Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, as well as communications with federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. But the group still has yet to gain commitments from the federal government on funding.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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