Prince Albert community group one of 10 to receive government grant to combat gang violence

Prince Albert’s West Flat Citizens Group has received a $20,000 grant from the provincial government as part of Saskatchewan’s Gang Violence Reduction Strategy.

The group was one of 10 community-based organizations to receive grant funding. Other recipients include La Ronge-based North Saskatchewan Victim Services, the Onion Lake Native Justice Inc. and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council.

West Flat Citizens Group executive director Dawn Robbins said they’re grateful for any financial contribution, but added it will take a lot more to eradicate Prince Albert’s gang problem.

“Everything always helps, but because we’re dealing with a large population—we’re dealing with the penitentiaries, the jails, with our communities—we need a larger number that will enhance and allow us as a province to setup gang exit programs in all major centres and communities,” she explained.

This $20,000 grant will go towards two initiatives. The first is designed to help parents and teachers understand how gangs form and recognize specific signs so they’ll know if their children or students are involved in one. They’re hoping to have everything in place by September.

The other will help people who are already gang members, but are trying to leave that life behind. The specific focus will be on inmates who are released from one of Prince Albert’s prisons. West Flat also plans on using the grant funding to help setup a website for gang members looking to leave that life behind. Ideally, they’d like to have both of these things ready as soon as possible.

Robbins said there are already anti-gang resources available for those trying to leave that life, however it can be difficult to connect one with the other. This website will hopefully bridge that gap.

“We want to reduce gang violence. We want to reduce the number of individuals who join gangs and increase the number of individuals who leave gangs and we’re hoping that something like this is a tool to helping in the long run,” she explained. “We just want to build a healthier community.”

While the $20,000 grant is welcome, it won’t be enough to cover the biggest need going forward. Many gang members seeking to leave the life have difficulty finding jobs and housing while taking part in anti-gang programming, like that offered by Saskatoon-based outreach centre STR8 UP.

Robins said they’d like to be able to offer a stipend while gang members take part in these programs or any others they may need. However, $20,000 won’t be nearly enough.

“Sometimes they go back into a home or family, but if they don’t then they need to seek housing,” she said. “To seek housing, you need money. To get money you need an address, so we’re always battling something. We want to make this transition as easy as possible.”

The Ministry of Corrections and Policing distributed the funds following an open call for proposals that took place in March. There will be a second call for proposals this summer.

Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said the grants would help community groups like West Flat provide more support to at-risk youth, or gang members seeking to leave that life.

“We know that one of the most important places to start when addressing gang violence is in the community,” Tell said in a media release. “These grants represent government’s commitment to work with communities across Saskatchewan to develop a united response to gang violence including suppression, intervention and prevention efforts.”