Feds shoot down funding pleas from Hamilton at-risk youth program

The federal government says it has no plans to renew funding for a critical Hamilton at-risk youth program, which is slated to shut its doors for good this summer.

Public Safety Canada says the YARD program has gotten the 'maximum length of funding available'

Members of the John Howard Society's YARD program are making a last-ditch push for more funding to keep its doors open past this summer. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The federal government says it has no plans to renew funding for a critical Hamilton at-risk youth program, which is slated to shut its doors for good this summer.

Both Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger and local MP Bob Bratina have been pushing the feds for more funding for the John Howard Society's YARD Program, but so far, nothing has materialized.

Now, Public Safety Canada is saying that it has no plans to renew funding at all — but still, the mayor and supporters aren't taking that as a final answer.

"The John Howard Society of Hamilton & Burlington YARD project will have received five-year funding by the end of August under [the National Crime Prevention Strategy], the maximum length of funding available in accordance with the terms and conditions of the program," spokesperson Jean-Philippe Levert said in an email Tuesday.

Ruth Greenspan, the YARD program's executive director, says she isn't surprised by that response — but says it doesn't mean she's going to stop trying to find a way to keep the program's doors open.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not giving up," she said.

"To me, it should be a federally funded program."

YARD's organizers say the program has gotten 890 referrals for at-risk youth from police and social workers since 2014, and 580 of those have at some point become a client.

Its youth workers spend nights in the hospital with teens who are having suicidal thoughts or who have been sexually assaulted. They do everything from helping connect young people to shelter networks, to cooking meals for people who don't have any food at home.

Among its most important work is pulling kids out of gangs, or interceding when they run the risk of joining one. The group's work was critical in the city during times when teen youth violence was on the rise.

The program's current funding is set to expire on Aug. 1.

Eisenberger said that he's hoping letters from both himself and Bratina will help the ministry change its mind about funding the program.

"In many respects the ball is in the federal government's court," he said.

"This is very important for Hamilton and important to ensuring that kids in our community get the proactive and preventative care that will help them make better choices and get them on the right path and avoid additional costs down the road."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.