Government and social agencies are targeting one of Winnipeg's most notorious neighbourhoods with a new strategy to keep kids away from crime.

The provincial government is spending $600,000 over three years for a pilot project in a 21-block area of the city's William Whyte area — bounded by Burrows Avenue to the north, Salter Street to the east, William Whyte Dufferin Avenue to the south, and McGregor Street to the west.

The province, Winnipeg police and social agencies are teaming up on the block-by-block program, Premier Greg Selinger announced Wednesday.

“When people and families need urgent support, the lines between government departments, community agencies and other service providers don’t matter,” he said.

“Our goal is to offer seamless, integrated service to people in the community when they need it most and ultimately improve neighbourhood safety.  This is an important resource for the health and well-being of families and children who may be at risk.”

If it's successful, Selinger said the program may be expanded to other areas of the city.

Goal is to tackle root causes of crime

Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis said the new strategy will help tackle the social conditions behind crime. 

“This initiative is foundational to building community capacity in working to create a culture of safety, tackling the root cause of crime in our community,” Clunis said.

Clunis calls it a 'wraparound approach' that will bring together agencies that now work in isolation. 

"Often times the police might be targeting or focusing resources on one person, when in fact, you need to have the schools or social workers focusing their target on that particular individual," he said.

"So we're going to (have) better communication between all agencies trying to help this community."​

Some residents of one of the communities targeted say any change would be an improvement.

Chuck Frost lives in the William Whyte neighbourhood in the North End. He said crime is a stubborn problem where he lives, and it shouldn't be. 

"Crime shouldn't be here," he said.

Frost said his own building is safe because of the Citizens on Patrol Program, in which residents keep an eye on goings-on in the community. But outside the building, it's another story, he said.

"You're scared to cross the street sometimes, or walk down the back lane. People are getting beat up, people are getting mugged, and ripped off," he said.

Youth crime a growing problem

Frost said what he has noticed, is more young people getting into trouble.

"They're running back and forth on the streets," he said. "They're stopping cars. They're crossing the cross walk just to start (it). They're riding their bikes in front of cars, harrassing people."

Clunis said the strategy will address all crime, and includes a focus on young people.

"If we don't help them to be successful, we will have a significant crime problem on our hands, let's say five to 10 years from now," the police chief said.

Darlene Klyne, a long-time youth worker agrees.

"It's just a matter of economics," she said. "They get involved in crime to survive or they get involved in gang life."

Klyne runs Pathways to Education, a program that supports low-income students so they can finish high school.

"I see a lot of young people who don't belong to anyone," she said. "They are homeless and they are couch-surfing. We need to look at the issues that are the root causes of what crime is, and a lot of it stems from poverty."​

Frost said for him, the issue is simple.

"It's all because of the gangs," he said. "Get rid of the gangs, you got no problem."​

Block-by-Block breakdown

  • Can you give me a concrete example of how the project will work?

The community groups and other partners working on this project will develop approaches that work best in the community. 

An example might be if a teenager stops attending classes, drawing the attention of the school.  The bigger picture may involve other family issues like job losses, mental health or family violence.  Working together at the hub, agencies will put the pieces together and offer the family immediate, co-ordinated help to address their needs. 

  • What role are community organizations expected to play in this initiative?

Community agencies are most familiar with the community they serve and are essential to the success of the project.  The province, police, schools and community groups will be working together at the same table, solving problems to help those most at risk.  These agencies will also be involved in project governance through a steering committee.

  • How can people in the community access this pilot project if they need additional support or services?

Once this initiative is up and running, agencies, police, schools and government departments will identify those situations best suited for this approach. 

  • How will privacy and personal information be protected if all of the participating groups are sharing information? 

The province and partner agencies will put in place protocols to protect privacy, while also allowing for co-ordination and speedy responses.  Privacy is taken seriously and will meet the legal requirements to protect the confidential information of individuals and families.  Manitoba’s Block by Block initiative will also learn from the successful experience in Saskatchewan on best practices, adapted to ensure compliance with Manitoba law.

  • How will the success of the project be measured?

The Winnipeg Police Service is able to track police calls and crime in the area, which is one measure of the project’s effect.  Other indicators could include the number of children taken into care and the number of families accessing support services on a preventative basis.  There may also be fewer calls for emergency services.  The project in Prince Albert, Sask., which is the basis for Manitoba’s initiative, has seen similar successes. 

  • Who will be running this initiative?

A steering committee will be established.  It will be co-chaired by Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross and Justice Minister Andrew Swan.  Winnipeg Police Service Chief Devon Clunis will also serve on the steering committee. 

Heather Leeman will help lead this project as the executive director, drawing on her experience working in the community, most recently with the North End Women’s Centre.  The provincial government and Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) will assign staff to work on this project and partner schools and agencies in the community will also be contributing staff time.  The office will be located in the Murdo Scribe Centre on Selkirk Avenue.

A committee of senior officials from the departments involved and the WPS will also be established.  Its job is to look at the bigger picture, make policy changes where needed and track results.   

  • How much will the project cost? 

The cost of this project is being supported by $200,000 per year for the provincial government and significant staff resources.  Other partner agencies are also reallocating staff time and other resources to the project.  This initiative will reduce costs overall and improve lives in the long run, by keeping people out of hospitals and jails, and keeping families together. 

SOURCE: Government of Manitoba

With files from The Canadian Press