Waterloo Region gang prevention program could vanish

inREACH, a program that helps Waterloo Region kids steer clear of criminal gangs, needs to find a new source of funding by Dec. 31, or risk being scuttled.

Region ranks 4th for street gang crime in province

inREACH, a program that helps Waterloo Region kids steer clear of criminal gangs, needs to find a new source of funding by Dec. 31, or risk being scuttled. 

inREACH has been receiving temporary funding from the region, which has agreed to bankroll the program until December 31, the region picked up the tab after In-Reach's initial contract with the National Crime Prevention Centre ran out on March 31. 

The program helps deter at-risk youth from joining gangs by helping them develop skill sets, finish school and find jobs.

"Waterloo Region ranked fourth in the province in terms of the rate of street gang crime," Rohan Thompson told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Tuesday. "We've seen kids in our program who you know weapons, theft, selling drugs, the list goes on and on." 

The program works in two phases. The first is what organizers call the "community treatment phase," where at-risk youth receive intensive one-on-one support for mental health and addiction issues, as well as help getting skills, finishing school and finding a paying job. 

The second phase is called "community mobilization" and focuses on prevention through youth support workers, who try and engage youth through activities such as sports, art and music at community centres across Waterloo Region. 

"We provide a range of supports. None of it is cookie cutter. It's all relationship based. Once you form the relationship, you can begin to have some success in terms of addressing the issues," Thompson said.

Program created after Creba shooting

The program was created by the federal government in response to the 2005 Boxing Day killing of 15-year-old Jane Creba, who was caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in downtown Toronto.

In late March 2013, the region provided $426,770 in funding for the program from April to December. inREACH says its projected end of year spending will be less than budgeted – $411,074.  

inREACH also says that the cost of maintaining one youth for one year in the program is just over $15,000. To put the same youth in custody for one year would cost $120,000.

Thompson says if inREACH were to be cancelled due to funding reasons, 150 youth will be affected. He is now looking for other sources of support within the community.

“The project has demonstrated that there’s a need, success and lots of community support,” said Thompson. “Although I know the community is very resilient and something else will develop, we still have a lot of young people who are going to lose the opportunity to receive the support that they need.”  

He added he's not sure what it will take to save the program before it's too late. 

"I really don't know," he said. "Unfortunately the way these things work, it's usually a tragedy that needs to happen before folks rally the troops and say 'hey we need to do something' and hopefully it never comes to that."


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