BILL Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, and Harjit Sajjan, Defence Minister, on Tuesday announced $7.5 million in federal funding for the Surrey Anti-Gang Family Empowerment (SAFE) Program. This program will provide at-risk youth with alternatives to joining gangs, help them develop social skills, and restore and build positive relationships with their parents and the community.
The SAFE Program was developed out of the findings of the Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention, which reported its findings in July 2018. Up to 4,730 high-school-aged young people in the City of Surrey will benefit from this project.
The program is funded under the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS). The NCPS funds programs that reach out to young people through schools, community centres and neighbourhood organizations to help steer them away from drugs, gangs and other potentially harmful activities. It also helps programs that provide counselling and support to build stronger communities.
The SAFE Program will include the creation of a Children and Youth at Risk Table (CHART) that brings together partners on a weekly basis to ensure interventions are coordinated for maximum impact. It will also provide support to young women exiting unhealthy, sexually exploitative relationships; and provide support to parents to strengthen relationships and positive cultural attachment for at-risk young people who may be lured into joining a gang.
Blair said: “Our government believes in bringing together as many partners as possible to work in a coordinated approach to prevent young people from joining gangs. The SAFE Program was developed specifically for Surrey in response to the urgent need for a coordinated approach to address gang violence, and to disrupt the pathways young people take toward joining gangs and the gang lifestyle. We are making investments in at-risk young people to help them make better, smarter and safer choices. With this program, we will deter young people from engaging in gang activity and crime. This will ultimately contribute to a safer community in Surrey.”
Sajjan added: “Our government is committed to protecting our young people and keeping them safe through preventative programming to help them confront their challenges, build trust and confidence, and discover a better path. By addressing the underlying problems causing crime, the SAFE Program will make a real and lasting difference for young people in Surrey, and for the community as a whole.”
Mike Farnworth, BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said: “Keeping young people engaged in school and family life to help them build a positive future free from the impact of gang and other criminal activities, is one of the most important public safety investments that we can make. This funding will complement the support we’ve given to many successful gang intervention programs, such as Surrey Wrap, Expect Respect and a Safe Education (ERASE), and Gang Exiting and Outreach project.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said: “The funding announced today will go to tackle a key element in reducing gangs. Disaffected and at-risk youth have been vulnerable to falling into the trap of the gang lifestyle. We created the SAFE Program to empower our youth, families and their neighbourhoods so we can all look forward to a positive future free from the harmful impact of gangs. I want to thank the Government of Canada for their financial support in curbing gang activity in Surrey.”
Meanwhile, DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society said it will be providing Clinical Counselling Services to vulnerable youth who are at risk of being recruited into gangs, and their families, in the Surrey area. Clinical Counselling Services through cultural and first language supports will be provided to at-risk youth. A consortium of partners including Surrey RCMP, Surrey School District, SFU, and other local Surrey based partner organizations will be working together to address issues at the local community level.
While the SAFE Program is focusing on intervention strategies, the consortium is well aware that prevention and enforcement are areas still needing additional funding. “The safety of our youth and families is a very sensitive and complex issue within our rapidly growing city,” said Neelam Sahota, CEO of DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society. “Youth in our community face a myriad of challenges and issues. Coordinated programs such as SAFE provide the wrap around supports by community organizations and public partners that each have well honed experience so we can ensure that we can assist our youth and their families in finding new paths and build positive relationships with their families and the community.”
The SAFE Program will start immediately both in the community and at the SAFE Centre which is a partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University to create a collaborative hub.