Province invests $4.5M into gang reduction

(Herald file photo)

STR8 Up providing services in central and northern Sask. with help of Prince Albert groups

People involved in gangs and the associated criminal lifestyle will soon have more access to help.

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Corrections and Policing announced its investing $4.5 million over four years into a Community Intervention Model—a component of the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy—on Tuesday afternoon.

The ministry has partnered with Saskatoon’s STR8 Up and Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS). STR8 Up will be providing services in central and northern Saskatchewan, while RT/SIS will be providing services in the south.

STR8 Up will also be working with the West Flat Citizens Group and the Prince Albert Outreach Program.

“The bulk of our criminal activity, drugs, etc. in the province is driven by gang activity,” said Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell. “We want to get to the heart of this issue.”

Tell said the two organizations will work with gang members through outreach, intervention and prevention services. This involves helping them access housing, mental health and addictions programming.

STR8 Up Chair Stan Tu’Inukuafe said outreach support includes picking people up from correctional centres and helping them find housing and get identification.

“Once they become stabilized in the sense of they have income coming in, they’re staying in a safe place, then we help them get into school. Some of them want to go back to work, so we help them do their employment and reconnect with their families,” he said.

He said Saskatoon’s gang activity is increasing and getting younger.

“When I was doing this about 15 plus years ago, it was unique because the individuals joining the gangs were the first ones. Now we have generations of now their kids are involved and so we’re seeing that cycle.”

Tu’Inukuafe said getting help is a ripple effect. Once someone is healthy, others ask how they recovered and are referred to their services.

He noted the first step to leaving the gang and criminal lifestyle is overcoming addictions to alcohol or drugs.

In April, the West Flat Citizens Group was one of 10 to receive a $20,000 grant as part of the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy.

Speaking to the Daily Herald at that time, executive director Dawn Robins said the group would educate teachers and parents on the signs of gang involvement and help gang members themselves.

“Sometimes they go back into a home or family, but if they don’t then they need to seek housing,” said Robins. “To seek housing, you need money. To get money you need an address, so we’re always battling something.”

Erica Beaudin is the executive director of RT/SIS. She delivered a powerful speech that touched on the need to belong and a lack of resources for those involved in gangs.

“To us, this program is not about gang busting. These services that we have are not about anything other than creating change and giving tools to create change to a group of people who may not even understand what it’s like to be reintegrated into society because it was never their society in the first place,” said Beaudin.

RT/SIS provides assistance, programming, training, advocacy and referrals to urban Indigenous people and those transitioning from a reservation into Regina.

Speaking about gang activity, Beaudin said people need the opportunity to escape: “That includes education; That includes housing; That includes cultural opportunities; That includes employment.”

“Without those, how can you move beyond survival? How can you feel that you are belonging when you do not even have enough to go to the grocery store, when you don’t have enough to make that rent at the end of the month?”

Tell said clients can be referred to either of the organizations or an active gang member can reach out and apply on their own. Staff will support them until their life changes are sustainable.

She said over the four years, the two organizations are expected to help about 100 people affiliated with gangs.

In addition to the Community Intervention Model, the Gang Violence Reduction Strategy includes expanding Dedicated Substance Abuse Treatment Units into more correctional facilities, reallocating provincially funded police units to Crime Reduction Teams in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina, as well as improving intelligence gathering and sharing between police agencies.

The strategy also received $11.9 million last spring as part of the Government of Canada’s Take Action Against Gun and Gang Violence initiative.