Two years after coming to Halifax, the anti-violence program CeaseFire is helping lower crime rates in four targeted neighbourhoods of the city.
A dedicated team of 10 people work around the clock to reach high-risk youth in North Preston, Mulgrave Park, Uniacke Square and Dartmouth North.
"A lot of our workers are not just changing one life, they're changing several lives and that's very important for myself and my co-workers that we're making a difference in these communities," said Carlos Beals, senior outreach worker for CeaseFire Halifax.
Modelled after a program in Chicago, CeaseFire came to Halifax following a string of violence in 2011. The city claimed the infamous title that year of having the second highest homicide rate in Canada.
According to statistics from Halifax Regional Police, there were 36 shooting incidents in 2013 — the year before CeaseFire launched in the city. In 2015, the number of shootings dropped to 18.
Program manager of CeaseFire Halifax, Mel Lucas, says the difference is obvious in the four neighbourhoods his team targets.
"In 2013, there were 11 shooting incidents as compared to four shooting incidents in 2015. So, that's a reduction of 64 per cent," he said.
In the beginning, the program focused on African Nova Scotian males between the ages of 16 and 24. Lucas has since decided to stray from the original mandate.
"We now have Caucasian clients. We have aboriginal clients. We have female clients. All of them need help, so we're here to help them," he said.
Violence as an 'epidemic'
The program treats violence as an epidemic. According to Beals, the goal is to find the source, stop the transmission and change the behaviour.
"Our outreach workers provide treatment and create a treatment plan for clients by helping them to alleviate violent tendencies and find a more productive way of living," Beals said.
Workers also spend a lot of time reacting to violent situations that could lead to retaliation.
"You know if there's a stabbing incident, we go out directly to the source. We talk to community members, we talk to people who have been impacted directly by the incident and we try to understand you know where their minds are at. Are they wishing to go out and retaliate against the other party? So that's what we do," he said.
Hopes for expansion
Although CeaseFire is funded by the federal government and provincial Department of Justice, they don't consider themselves aligned with the authorities.
"We don't take as hard line an approach as the police. And we're certainly not there to rat anybody out to the police," said Lucas.
"Our point is to go out and chat with these young men or women and convince them that there's a better route."
Lucas says with one year of funding left, he is working on a proposal to keep the program running. He hopes to eventually hire more staff, expand into more communities and establish a stronger relationship with local hospitals.