The province is renewing funding for several police anti-gang units after last week's mass shooting in Toronto. But a man who works with youth in Thunder Bay says crime prevention money would be better spent at his gym.

Peter Panetta has run the Underground Gym on Simpson Street since 1999, a youth drop-in centre that provides free activities to children and teens.

He said he believes his work keeps children safe and prevents crime.

"It keeps the kids active in something positive," Panetta said. "If they're in here doing something positive they're not out there doing [something] negative."


Thunder Bay Police Chief JP Levesque (CBC)

Thunder Bay's police chief said he recognizes the value of social programs in preventing crime, and that it takes a community effort to continue to bring the crime rate down.

"I'd certainly take the money for more police officers," JP Levesque said. "But I think if you look at housing programs, addiction programs, [and] education programs, all those things are going to help."

The renewed funding for police is through the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, money that was supposed to dry up in 2013.

After a shooting at a community barbeque in Toronto, however, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made an announcement earlier this week to renew the $7.5 million fund to be shared by 20 communities, including Thunder Bay. Toronto will have its own pot of money.

"It's huge for us because that's over $600,000 that we access here in Thunder Bay," Levesque said.

But Panetta said there's little money to continue his work in crime prevention and added he’s already had to make a contingency plan to help kids if he can't afford to keep the lights on next year.

"I have to go out there and find money to pay for hydro and all these things and this year has to be one of the worst years and things don't look too good right now," Panetta said.

It’s a vision of the future Panetta doesn’t like to consider, particularly after all the hard work he’s put into the program.

"If you can keep them busy, it makes a difference. I've been doing this for 13-and-a-half years and I've seen some good results," he said. "I haven't been able to get them all, but I think the key now is … [to] get them at an early age and get them involved in something that pleases them."