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City of Nanaimo working on strategy to steer youths away from gun and gang violence

$1.85 million in federal funding being used to develop strategic plan
The City of Nanaimo is using federal funding to develop a strategic plan to try to prevent youths from becoming involved with gangs. (News Bulletin file photo)

The city’s strategy to prevent gang violence is nearly complete and could be ready to put in place by the summer.

A report on Nanaimo’s strategy to prevent gun and gang violence was presented to City of Nanaimo councillors at a governance and priorities committee meeting Feb. 13.

Nanaimo is receiving $1.85 million over four years from the federal Ministry of Public Safety’s building safer communities fund to create a strategy to prevent youths from becoming involved in gang activity.

The city is building a three-year gun and gang violence prevention strategic plan that will be presented to council in March to be considered for endorsement. Consultation with stakeholders and other members of the public concludes later this week.

“We’ve been collaborating between departments, including community planning, the RCMP, as well as parks, rec, and culture – who are uniquely positioned to support youths – and we’ve selected a qualified consultant,” said Lisa Brinkman, city manager of community planning.

Damon Johnston, manager of recreation services, said a recreation coordinator hired for the project is developing an education and awareness campaign “to engage youths, parents and the community to bring awareness to both risk factors and the protective factors associated with gun and gang violence.” He said a steering committee was formed to support the strategic planning process, create public awareness, carry out education outreach, help identify priorities, and support implementation of the strategic plan.

The final strategy will be submitted to the Ministry of Public Safety Canada for review by March 31. If the strategy passes the review, it will begin to be implemented in the summer.

Part of the strategy’s development process includes looking at local risk factors that can drive youths toward gang involvement and what programs that support at-risk children and youths already exist in Nanaimo. Christy Wood, social planner, said among the consultant’s roles is pulling together information on best practices from other communities and also to look at local data.

She said the provincial Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit will be pulling statistics on gun and gang violence for the city. Consultations also involve collecting data from organizations that have expertise on youth resiliency or youth risk factors, and also gathering anecdotal information.

Coun. Paul Manly asked about existing data that could help identify neighbourhoods to focus efforts, and Wood said there have been consultations with Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district to that effect.

“I know we have the lowest income areas in this school district in the province and I know that there’s some correlation … based on opportunities for young people in some of these poorer neighbourhoods, that could be enhanced or built upon,” said Manly.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, a former Nanaimo RCMP sergeant, recalled studying gangs and gun violence in Nanaimo about 10 years ago, and cautioned that youths who become involved in gang activities or organized crime don’t always come from financially disadvantaged background.

“We found … the majority of our gang members here come from affluent neighbourhoods, not poor neighbourhoods, contrary to what a lot of people think,” she said. “It depends what kind of gangs you’re looking for. You’ve got your organized crime-level gangs and just your street-level gangs … I think that’s something we have to be cognizant of and not always think that it comes from poorer backgrounds.”

Coun. Erin Hemmens wondered if youth support programs that are already operating, but underfunded, could be enhanced by the federal funding, and Armstrong said good programs in Nanaimo and elsewhere have ended due to lack of financial support.

“So I really struggle with Public Safety Canada trying to deal with the problem when they’re not funding these groups that are really working well,” Armstrong said.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo to receive $1.8 million to address gun and gang violence

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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