Two Saskatchewan agencies — one in Saskatoon and one in Regina — have been chosen to be part of the province's strategy to fight gang violence, and will receive millions of dollars in funding to help in that fight.
The partnership, announced Tuesday, comes with $4.5 million split between the two agencies over four years — $750,000 annually for Saskatoon's Str8 Up and $375,000 annually for Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS).
The organizations will offer outreach and intervention to help people looking to leave gangs. The funding will also be used to help people coming out of jail reintegrate into their communities.
Successfully getting out of gangs is contingent on opportunity, says Erica Beaudin, director of RT/SIS — which works to provide assistance and advocacy for First Nations people in Regina, and for those transitioning between reserves and urban settings.
"There are a lot of societal reasons why people have chosen a criminal lifestyle," said Beaudin. Chief among those, she said, are lack of education or inability to attain it, housing, participation in culture, and employment.
Those social determinants of health are what Str8 Up — a Saskatoon-based gang-exit support group — and RT/SIS will address with money from the province, she said.
"Without those, how can you move beyond survival? How can you feel that you're belonging when you do not even have enough to go the grocery store, when you don't have enough to pay that rent at the end of the month?"
Referrals to the agencies offering these services can come from correctional officers or from police. A person looking to leave a gang can also ask for assistance themselves.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Fisher, commander of the RCMP in Saskatchewan, said these programs can have a big impact on improving community safety. Addressing the root causes of crime is a crucial step in the right direction, he said.
"We need to understand that vulnerability … [and] the fact that things such as employment and housing are a huge contributor" in creating an incentive to leave a gang lifestyle, Fisher said.
This money announced this week isn't new, though. It comes from $11.9 million the province received in March from the federal government.
"It's a drop in the bucket. It's a step forward but it's a beginning step," said Nicole Sarauer, the provincial NDP's justice, corrections and policing critic. The Opposition MLA was quick to praise the agencies receiving funding, but said the government is making up for past actions.
"This is a very positive thing. This comes after a decade of the province essentially gutting funding for the community organizations that were successfully doing this work," said Sarauer, referring to the Regina Anti-Gang Strategy (RAGS), which lost its funding.
The agencies will serve the north and south of the province, with RT/SIS focusing on the south, including the Fort Qu'Appelle region and possibly the Yorkton area. Str8 Up will work in the north, including North Battleford, Prince Albert and the La Ronge area.