Keeping youth off the street

November 27, 2012

Policy & Issues

Story by Maya Hamovitch

Ottawa Police in front of Parliament. Photo by Kit Logan (Flickr).

Identifying and helping youth who are at risk of joining gangs is a top priority for reducing gang violence in Ottawa, according to a city report released Monday.

According to Gord Boyd, director of youth justice services for Youth Services Bureau, Ottawa’s gang community is mostly comprised of youth at risk of joining gangs, rather than those fully entrenched in violent gang behaviour.

“Ottawa doesn’t have large numbers of gang members,” Boyd said. “We have large numbers of youth in need of support and direction.”

The report, produced by the Ottawa Police Service, Crime Prevention Ottawa, the Youth  Services Bureau, and  Ottawa Community Housing outlines recommendations that emerged from a community forum held at Ottawa City Hall in October that was attended by more than 200 people.

Two of the initiatives identified in the report that will soon be launched include training community leaders to help youth in minority communities and training service agencies on identifying youth at risk. “There are a number of factors that drive young people to be involved in gang-like behaviour. The concern is youth at risk of becoming gang members as much as it is the number of folks that are already gang members,” Boyd said.

Prevention of gang membership, rather than increased policing, is the major strategy emphasized in the report.

A focus on prevention requires knowledge of who is at risk and how to intervene early on. Boyd suggests that real choices for productive meaningful lives are needed.

“We need to be ensuring young people have the opportunity to develop, the opportunity for housing, the opportunity for employment that are sustainable for their future,” Boyd said. “When we look at young people exiting gang activity they exit because there are other alternatives to them that are meaningful.”

Youth Services Bureau, in partnership with the OPS and CPO plans to train service agencies and community-based organizations on the identification of those at risk of gang involvement.

In addition, LASI- WorldSkills, part of the coalition of Local Agencies Serving Immigrants, will receive $60,000 from CPO to train leaders who can connect with immigrant youth.

“The gun issue crosses every race, class, every community and it includes newcomers,” said Mengistab Tsegaye, executive director of LASI.

“We will be engaging community leaders and parents to get them involved so that they can be proactive in preventing kids from turning to gangs and guns.”

In Ottawa, there were 31 shootings between January 1 and October 3, 2012, according to Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Mark Patterson of the guns and gangs unit. At any given time, there are 15 to 19 identifiable groups operating within the city that could be classed as ‘streetgangs.’ Most of these groups are sub-groups of the Crips or the Bloods, said Patterson

Boyd says he hopes the new initiatives will ultimately provide new productive choices for youth that will offer meaningful life opportunities.

“We need to let these people dream again so that they can be successful community members – these are our youth,” Boyd said.

About Maya Hamovitch

I am an avid consumer of ketchup chips. Born and raised in Toronto, I am a city girl at heart. The best thing about living in Ottawa is watching the leaves change colour in the fall. It's absolutely stunning!

View all posts by Maya Hamovitch


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