THE TOWNLINE HILL CONFLICT: Working to stop gang violence before it begins

The South Asian Community Resource Office is among the youth programs aiming to make a difference

  • Sep. 24, 2015 3:00 p.m.
Some programs in Abbotsford

Some programs in Abbotsford

This is one of three articles published in Wednesday’s Abbotsford News on this issue. See also: Guns, gangs, grudges and Raising questions about racial stereotyping

by Laura Rodgers, Abbotsford News

Can gang violence be stopped before it begins?

An Abbotsford group is trying. The South Asian Community Resource Office, a youth outreach program run by Abbotsford Community Services, works with local at-risk youth to help them achieve positive goals and avoid getting caught up in gangs and crime.

For the young people they help, success doesn’t always look the same: some may want to attend university, others hope to stay out of trouble and repair strained family relationships. SACRO staff let their clients set their own goals, and meet with them on their own schedules. It’s an approach yielding positive results, and it gives staff unique insight into crime, conflict and community in Townline Hill and elsewhere.

“We help them with goals, on their own terms,” said Parveen Uppal, SACRO’s case manager. She notes that youth being drawn to criminal groups is in no way a problem faced only by the South Asian community. But a culturally nuanced approach to prevention and intervention, she said, can be the best way to help.

The program is currently working with 35 young people, and more cases will be taken on as the school year continues.

Youngsters are referred to SACRO by schools or police for a variety of reasons – from skipping class, to schoolyard scuffles, to involvement in serious crimes. Youth workers start with a confidential in-depth interview to get to know their clients’ lives, challenges, and goals for the future. Then, they check in weekly, and encourage youth to take steps toward those goals.

“A lot of what we help with is getting the youth back into the school system,” said Uppal. Many of the kids referred to her have been kicked out of mainstream high schools over disciplinary or drug issues. She’ll encourage these kids to stay out of trouble and stay on top of their online or alternate-school coursework, and then use those positive records to advocate for them returning to mainstream schools.

Uppal expects they will be over-capacity for clients this year, and suspects even more youth could use SACRO’s help, but some may worry about whether joining the program will come with a stigma. She wants to stress that the program is completely confidential.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re trying to do whatever we can in the community,” she said.

Gary Dhindsa, one of the program’s youth workers, says helping his clients is a complex challenge.

Often, the youth who are recruited by violent or criminal groups are quite young – some are even in middle school.

“You can bribe a kid … get them to deliver a package for $100,” he said. “It’s the most vulnerable ones who get targeted.”

For his clients, the allure of joining a criminal group is often about social status.

“They want to hang out with the people with power,” he said. “They want to fit in. They want to be known as being connected to this organization.”

Most of Abbotsford’s South Asian youth, he notes, are a high-achieving group.

But when any young person falls in with the wrong crowd, there’s the potential to fall far.

Some of his troubled clients are involved with smaller-scale conflicts, aligning with groups of other young people who frequently get into fights with rivals. Others find themselves drawn in by a more serious criminal element, hanging out with “friends” in their late 20s or older and getting involved in the drug trade.

These two sorts of problems likely have some connection, although that’s unclear.

Some of the more serious criminal groups, Uppal noted, may be recruiting youth at unexpected locations – like local gyms. It’s impossible to isolate the kids from all risk, so Dhindsa instead encourages parents to set boundaries, know where their kids are, and spend quality time together as a family.

“A lot of them just need a push in the right direction and a person who holds them accountable for their actions,” he said.

SEE ALSO:

Guns, gangs, grudges

Raising questions about racial stereotyping

Just Posted

Terry Driver as he looked around the time of the killing of Tanya Smith and the attempted murder of Misty Cockerill in Abbotsford in October 1995. No current photos are available of Driver.
‘Abbotsford Killer’ Terry Driver denied parole, deemed ‘high risk’ to re-offend

Driver murdered Tanya Smith, 16, and seriously injured Misty Cockerill, 15, in 1995

Boats in the Fraser River launched from Barrowtown and Ft. Langley on May 12 to search for the missing fisherman. (Steve Simpson)
Boats search the Fraser River for missing Abbotsford fisherman

Anyone with ‘a boat, time, or a drone’ to help bring Damian Dutrisac home was asked to help

Mina Shahsavar is a fourth-year student in the bachelor of science in nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley and is an employed student nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Submitted photo)
Nursing student in Abbotsford plans for career in critical care

Mina Shahsavar inspired during hospital stays as a child

The Canadian Forensic Health Corporation, made up of (left to right) Kirstin Simpson, Adrienne Fershau, Tiffany Kafka, Susan Short and Cole Bruce, are changing the game for the forensic nurse occupation. (Submitted)
Abbotsford nurses create Canadian Forensic Health Corporation

Tiffany Kafka, Susan Short, Kirstin Simpson, Cole Bruce and Adrienne Fershau teaching new generation

A pair of deer were spotted in Abbotsford on Tuesday (May 11) morning. (Submitted)
VIDEO: Pair of deer explore Abbotsford neighbourhood

Resident captures deer duo munching on foliage and then wandering off

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

What3words was first created in the U.K. in 2013 and is credited to saving the lives of outdoor enthusiasts around the world. (Contributed)
‘This is a life saving tool’: App helps paramedics find capsized canoeists near Revelstoke

What3words pinpoints the person’s phone location to a three-meter range

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Most Read