Thompson keeping kids safe with StreetReach program that helped more than 400 in its first year

·4 min read

Just one year after putting boots on the ground, a new program in Thompson has managed to get hundreds of missing and at-risk youth off the streets, away from possible danger and return them to safety.

Last week numbers were released from the first year of Thompson’s StreetReach North program, which was launched in the summer of 2020 and sees those on the frontline work in a number of ways in the northern Manitoba city to assist at-risk youth, locate missing youth, and prevent young people from being sexually exploited.

According to statistics, between June of 2020 and August of 2021, StreetReach returned at least 473 missing children and youth aged 11 to 17 to their residences in the Thompson area.

The program, according to the statistics, also had more than 2,500 relationship-building contacts with at-risk youth.

Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said the program was launched one year ago because there has consistently been a high number of missing youth reports in Thompson and a high number of reports of sexually exploited children and youth.

Smook said the program puts workers on the streets who often make youth feel more comfortable than they would be dealing with police officers and creates opportunities for “relationship building” between youth and StreetReach workers.

“You can see the success of the program with more than 400 youth being returned home, but a big factor in all of this is that relationship building side as well,” Smook said. “They have been able to positively influence kids and help kids in so many ways.

“They have been able to convince kids to get back into school and to walk away from high-risk lifestyles. So there is a proactive side to this as well, where we can see kids get themselves out of situations before they become dangerous.”

Smook added the team with StreetReach is also keeping their eyes out for places and for people in Thompson causing youth to be in danger.

“They have been able to identify homes that children were not safe in and they have been able to identify adults that are preying on children,” Smook said. “They are helping youth, but also keeping their eyes on the community to get a better grasp of where these dangers are stemming from.”

Smook added that in the first year of the program the relationship building has been so strong that some youth are now even reaching out to StreetReach workers when they feel they need assistance.

“StreetReach has boots on the ground all the time and the kids have gotten to know them and are phoning them if they are in trouble,” Smook said.

The StreetReach North program is run as a partnership between the city of Thompson, the province, the Awasis Agency of Northern Manitoba, Macdonald Youth Services, and Thompson RCMP.

Acting Manitoba RCMP north district commander Insp. Chris Hastie said the program has been valuable to RCMP in the north because when missing youth calls come in they can now work with StreetReach to help locate missing children, freeing up more resources for other calls and crime-related issues.

“When youth are reported missing, those calls can now be relayed onto StreetReach,” Hastie said. “And they have a strong network of contacts in the community and are more familiar with the social media trends, so it is more of a grassroots approach.”

Hastie added that when StreetReach is able to return youth to their homes they also have more time to talk with them about what is going on in their lives, and what they need to stay out of at-risk situations.

“They have the time to meet with the youth, see what’s going on in their life and see if they are having struggles like addictions or mental health issues,” Hastie said.

“They have the time to spend with these youth and see what the pressing issues are, and identify the reasons and the root causes behind a lot of these issues, and that is such a valuable component to all of this.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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