British Columbia

'There's so many kids dying': Mother says anti-gang program that saved her son desperately needs funding

An Abbotsford mother says her son could have been a casualty of the city's ongoing gang war if it wasn't for the support her family received at the South Asian Community Resource Office.

Surrey Crime Prevention Society claims funding model is flawed

Abbotsford police investigate a targeted shooting in October, 2019. (Shane MacKichan)

An Abbotsford mother says her son could have been a casualty of the city's ongoing gang war if it wasn't for the support her family received at the South Asian Community Resource Office.

The woman — whose name is withheld to protect her son's identity — says her 17-year-old's father had addiction issues and was abusive.

She says she was depressed and often took out her frustrations on her children.

"I tried not to yell at them and beat them," she said. "I just suffered a lot in front of my kids, and they saw me in that stage."

Through SACRO and the In It Together Program, the woman and her son received counselling, mentorship and community support.

"If this program was not here, then I don't think my son could be with me right now," she said. "These programs gave me strength."

She fears, however, families like hers now won't have access to the resources she benefited from because funding has run out.

'It could have been my son'

The boy's problems in elementary school started with pranks, such as throwing a classmate's shirt in a toilet and ballooned into violent outbursts.

By the time he reached high school, the teen was getting into bloody brawls and using drugs.

"One time, I found a knife in his backpack," the mother said. "He said, 'oh no, that's not mine. That's my friend's knife.' So, I just threw that away."

The teen would sneak out of the house and every time there was a news story about a gang shooting, the woman feared for her son's safety.

"There's so many kids dying," she said."I couldn't sleep. It could have been my son."

An Abbotsford mother, whose name is being withheld to protect her son's identity, wants to see more government funding for youth anti-gang programs. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The turnaround

The woman says her son reached a turning point when he was placed on probation after being caught with drugs.

They both received counselling through SACRO and In It Together, which helped repair their relationship.

The teen is now upgrading his classes and hopes to join a university soccer team next year.

"I was so frustrated but still I never gave up," the mother said. "I can't leave him like that, because I understand that I was wrong, too. He had an abusive childhood."

'Stuck in purgatory'

The government grant for In It Together dried up at the end of September, and the organization is now getting by on a $100,000 donation from the United Way.

The Surrey Crime Prevention Society, which runs similar programs, also saw its funding run out earlier this fall.

Executive director Karen Reid-Sidhu has applied for another grant, but even if it's approved, she says she won't see any money until the spring.

She says funding gaps like this put these types of programs in peril.

"We're stuck in purgatory, unfortunately," she said. "This is where the programs are flawed with granting."

Surrey Crime Prevention Society executive director Karen Reid-Sidhu says her organization needs more sustainable funding from the federal government. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Government response

Public Safety Canada says it provides grants on a time-limited basis, so that the federal government can examine more programs to determine which are most effective.

In an emailed statement, PSC says it also works with non-profit groups to help them become self sufficient.

"Regional public safety officials work closely with recipients, throughout the life cycle of their project, to help them explore alternative partnerships and funding opportunities," the statement read.

Reid-Sidhu says it's irresponsible to leave a six-month gap when groups like hers have to rely on donations to keep running.

"How ridiculous is that?" she said. "We have youth that are dying. We're not talking about millions of dollars here. We're talking about $50,000 a year to run our program."

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