Federal funding for an Abbotsford gang-prevention program is running out at the end of next month, ending support for more than 100 at-risk youth and their families, says the program’s community coordinator.
Alison Gutrath says the funding for the In It Together (IIT) program was provided by the Ministry of Public Safety for five years, starting in 2013.
That funding runs out Sept. 30 and and although there is a new funding approval round in process, the money is uncertain and isn’t scheduled to start until April 2019.
“Without funding for the six months, we’ll have to shut down the program and stop supporting youth and their families. It will be a devastating setback to a proven and successful program,” Gutrath said.
Requests to the provincial government to provide temporary funding have not been approved.
Gutrath said IIT needs $423,000 to provide essential services in the six months for the highest risk youth and their families.
Since the program began in 2013, staff have provided prevention, intervention and re-entry support for more than 1,500 at-risk youth and their 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.
“We work to stop the flow of young people into gangs, help support those who want to leave a gang and provide case management for those leaving prison,” Gutrath said.
“We know that prevention is less expensive than dealing with the aftermath of gang conflict.”
The IIT program is a partnership between Abbotsford Community Services, the Abbotsford Police Department, John Howard Society and Abbotsford school district.
Police Chief Bob Rich supports the program and is helping rally government support.
“The Lower Mainland gang conflict has deep roots in both Surrey and Abbotsford. Both communities need comprehensive prevention strategies to ensure this gang problem doesn’t continue in the years to come,” he said.
School district superintendent Kevin Godden said: “Since the program has been put in place, we have been able to more readily identify and support students who are at-risk of school failure due to their involvement with gangs.
“This commitment to prevention and intervention has been key in supporting a number of our students and, without this partnership, we would lose our ability to identify these youth early on and to ‘wrap around’ the youth with the supports needed.”
Gutrath is already hearing from concerned parents of youth in the program.
One client’s mother, who did not wish to be identified, has a son involved in programs through the South Asian Community Resource Office – a program of ITT. “There is a good possibility that had SACRO not have been there for him, my son would not be alive today,” she said.