Amid growing concern about gang violence across the Lower Mainland, a key anti-gang program in Abbotsford, B.C. is losing its funding.
The In It Together program, operated by Abbotsford Community Services, has been funded for the last five years through a grant with Public Safety Canada.
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That funding runs out in September. The group has applied to have it renewed, but there’s a problem: even if they’re accepted, the next funding window doesn’t kick in until April.
This leaves a six-month gap, in which In It Together will have to wind down the front-line services it offers to about 100 at-risk youth in the city.
“During that time, we would not be able to provide services for the youth and the family members,” said In It Together community coordinator Alison Gutrath.
“Our services include one-to-one support, parenting groups, mentoring, counselling and educational resources to help those seeking to avoid gang life.”
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Gutrath says that absence would be keenly felt. She said the outreach workers in the In It Together program are specially trained to work with kids who are already deeply entrenched in gang life, including some who’ve been involved with drugs and violence for years.
“We’re going to have to close those files,” she said.
“Some youth we can refer to other programs, but those are going to be limited services. They won’t be able to provide the comprehensive services that we can. And likely they will face wait lists.”
Gutrath said the organization is now frantically trying to secure transitional funding to tide it over until April.
She said over a six-month period, In It Together would usually need about $600,000 but is prepared to cut back to minimal services and shave a third of their budget off if it means they can keep the doors open.
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She estimates they could keep bare-bones services available for about $423,000.
“We’re willing to scale back. We’re willing to do just what the bare minimum would be to make sure that the highest-risk youth have some support when they start this next school year.”
The group has met with both the provincial and federal governments but says it has been unable to secure that transitional funding.
Global News has requested comment from Public Safety Canada.
A statement from the Ministry of Public Safety says Minister Mike Farnworth has sent a letter to the organization lauding it for its work, and that B.C. has awarded In It Together a $75,000 civil forfeiture grant for 2017-2018.
Gutrath said that money pays for a single female outreach worker that was hired on over and above the original program because the team didn’t have any women in that position.
If no new source of funding can be found, the In It Together program will shut down on Sept. 30.
-With files from Robyn Crawford
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