Against the backdrop of a playground at Kelowna’s Parkinson Recreation Centre, the federal government has announced $6.9 million in funding for programs to help keep youth from joining gangs in the B.C. Interior.
Kelowna and Kamloops will receive $2 million, Penticton $1 million, Vernon $953,000, and Salmon Arm $828,000.
The announcement was made by Pam Damoff, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety and MP for Oakville North - Burlington.
“I’m particularly pleased the focus here is going to be on young people, on education and reaching them in the schools,” said Damoff.
She was joined by Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming for the announcement.
The money is coming from the federal government’s Building Safer Communities Fund.
“I am pleased to share that we have a youth gang prevention and reduction strategy currently under development that is facilitating a regional partnership program through Central Okanagan Public Schools, the RCMP and the city of Kelowna,” said Dyas.
The program seeks to interrupt the pathways that can lead high-risk, vulnerable youth toward gun and gang involvement, he added.
The City of Vernon expects to have a similar program in place by the summer.
“We’re in the design stage now we’ve had confirmation of the funding,” said Mayor Cumming. “We’ve been working over the last 60 days to finalize our programming.”
Penticton Mayor Julius Bloomfield said the announcement is a template on how communities can work together.
“Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, the federal government has provided resources and trusting each community to find answers that work for them. In Penticton, it has brought our agencies together and allowed us to develop some innovative ideas.”
The Building Safer Communities Fund will make a significant difference in Salmon Arm according to Mayor Alan Harrison.
“Thirteen community organizations have collaborated to co-create a solution to the local challenges for youth in Salmon Arm and area. This inter-agency, collective effort will target specific risk factors associated with gun and gang involvement and improve youth resilience and inclusivity in Salmon Arm and area.”
Damoff noted these types of programs are part of an overall approach in reducing gun crime and violence in B.C.
“If we make it not cool to be involved with guns and give young people positive role models and positive social experiences, you’re getting to the root of the problem by giving those kids the opportunity to avoid being involved in gangs or crime in the first place.”