Project Home Deliver tracks down 14 at-risk kids in 1 weekend in Thompson
Joint RCMP-StreetReach program works to return youth in danger of exploitation to caregivers
Thompson RCMP are trying to stem the tide of about 1,200 at risk youth in the community who go AWOL from their group homes every year.
Project Home Deliver was launched this past weekend, when Thompson RCMP, in conjunction with the RCMP Crime Reduction Enforcement Support Team and StreetReach, took to the streets to find some of the runaways. StreetReach is a provincial government program based in Winnipeg that identifies and tracks down youth at risk of sexual exploitation and takes them somewhere safe.
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The goal of Project Home Deliver is to target suspected offenders who are harbouring children for the purpose of exploiting them. The team is also trying to develop relationships with the runaways and their caregivers.
"We tracked down several of the youth who are regularly not going back to their group home, and we gave notice to several people who are harbouring these youth and keeping them in their homes knowing they aren't supposed to. If we find them there a second time, charges will be laid," said Insp. Kevin Lewis with the Thompson RCMP.
Project Home Deliver checked on the well-being of 61 children on the weekend. They went to 18 different addresses in Thompson, including two group homes.
They found 14 at-risk youth age 12 to 17 who were missing from their group homes.
Lewis said many of the vulnerable teens run away from their group homes because they don't want to follow strict rules and they would rather be on the street with their friends. That's when they get into trouble with drugs, alcohol and anti-social behaviour, he said.
"Which is why we want to get them back into group homes so that type of activity can be curtailed — we need to intercept them before they get into more trouble or they are exploited or further delve into criminal behaviour," said Lewis.
Seen as a success
Police are dealing with a core of 15 to 20 teens who go missing on a regular basis, he said. Locating 14 on the weekend means the project was a success, he said.
"We are trying to help them now so they aren't spiralling out of control and we will be dealing with then in 10 years and putting them into jail," said Lewis.
Lewis hopes police and StreetReach will be able to work together regularly. While he would like Thompson to eventually have a StreetReach of its own, police will continue to partner with the Winnipeg group to track down missing kids every few months.