Vernon city council has endorsed a gun and gang violence prevention strategy that aims to tackle the root cause of gun and gang violence in the city, with a focus on keeping youth on the straight and narrow.
Earlier this month, the federal government 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 money is coming from the Building Safer Communities Fund, which has gone towards the creation of the Vernon Gun and Gang Violence Prevention Strategy.
Felix Munger, with the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention (which developed the strategy alongside Urban Matters), gave a Zoom presentation on the strategy to council Monday, March 27.
In his presentation, Munger highlighted a number of risk factors in Vernon that could lead individuals towards organized crime. These include a large number of people living in poverty, discrimination, stigmatization and oppression such as racism, lack of adequate social, physical and mental health or addictions services, low attachment to school, tolerance of substance abuse and abuse and neglect of children.
Munger then laid out three recommendations developed by the strategy to council.
The first was to develop outreach and navigator support for at-risk youth during the hours the Vernon Youth Safe House is closed.
“These kids are at the highest risk of getting involved in gun and gang violence at some point in time, and helping those kids during those hours to go to school, find a job, any kind of services that they may need, is a really, really valuable investment,” Munger said.
The second recommendation was to develop an Indigenous, peer-based youth mentorship program to reduce discrimination and promote cultural awareness among young people, with a specific focus on fostering a greater sense of belonging for Indigenous youth.
The third recommendation was to develop a waitlist management program to prevent children and youth from experiencing additional negative outcomes due to delays in receiving necessary services. The project aims to provide support for children, youth and their families who are currently unable to access services and for whom prolonged waiting periods may lead to long-term negative impacts and increased risk factors.
“There is a lot of kids that are waiting for assessments, they’re waiting for services, and kids that have to wait a year or two often get disengaged, and of course one of the things is it’s the pipeline. These may be kids right now that have a medium to low risk to get involved in gun and gang activity at some point, but untreated, of course the chances increase,” Munger said.
Munger said Vernon currently does not have a significant gun and gang violence problem, but the strategy is all about preventing gun and gang violence in the future.
The strategy is considered a road map and a living document, meaning it will evolve over time.
The City of Vernon needs to submit another grant application via the Building Safer Communities Fund to receive up to $850,000 over three years to support the strategy’s implementation.