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

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.


Guns, gangs, grudges

Raising questions about racial stereotyping

Just Posted

Abbotsford Community Services announces name change

50-year-old non-profit agency now called Archway Community Services

Vancouver Canucks playing pre-season game in Abbotsford

Canucks hosting Ottawa Senators on Monday, Sept. 23

Abbotsford water polo talent earns national gold

16U athletes Sarah Portas and Annika Reinfjell help lead Fraser Valley to first

Harrison Hot Springs to consider single-use plastics ban

Village staff will come back to council with a report on what a possible ban could look like

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

VIDEO: Trans Mountain expansion project gets green light, again

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the decision in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon

MPs hear retired B.C. nurse’s petition to change compensation for fatal medical errors

Teri McGrath wants provinces to implement no-fault system for medical errors

Horgan says he’ll still defend B.C. coast after second Trans Mountain approval

Meanwhile, one B.C. First Nation has announced plans for a legal challenge

Metro Vancouver’s air quality could be the worst yet this wildfire season

As wildfire season approached, Metro Vancouver experts predict the air will be an issue for many

Demonstrators on either side of Trans Mountain debate clash in Vancouver

Crowd heard from member of Indigenous-led coalition that hopes to buy 51% of expansion project

Update: Multiple fires along the railway tracks in Pitt Meadows

CP rail has closed tracks while firefighters work

Grieving B.C. mom hopes Facebook message leads to new investigation into son’s Surrey homicide

Criminal Justice Branch didn’t lay charges, concluding no substantial likelihood of murder or manslaughter conviction

B.C.’s measles vaccination program gains traction in May

More than 15,000 doses of the MMR vaccine has been administered across the province

B.C. farmers concerned Agricultural Land Reserve changes choking their livelihood

Dozens voice concerns at special meeting hosted on Vancouver Island

Most Read