April 16, 2019 6:38 pm
Updated: April 17, 2019 7:29 am

STR8 UP calling for funding boost to enact Saskatchewan gang strategy

WATCH ABOVE: STR8 UP is calling for a funding boost to help combat gangs in Saskatchewan.

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A grassroots organization in Saskatoon is calling on the Saskatchewan government to increase funding for prevention and intervention as the group develops a provincial strategy to combat gangs.

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With two paid employees and several volunteers, STR8 UP works with more than 100 people transitioning out of gang life. With two phases of a study complete, researchers hope STR8 UP can become a hub providing support outside Saskatoon for communities dealing with gangs.

READ MORE: Ex-gang members to contribute to Saskatchewan’s gang strategy

According to STR8 UP president Stan Tu’Inukuafe, to deliver the programming on a provincial scale STR8 UP would need to expand beyond Saskatoon to add three more regional offices in Regina, Prince Albert and North Battleford.

Three more outreach workers would be needed, along with funding to pay them a living wage, he said.

Without offering specific startup cost estimates, Tu’Inukuafe pointed to $12 million recently allocated from the federal government for Saskatchewan to combat gangs. Of the total, the Saskatchewan government is offering 10 grants worth $20,000 each.

“You can’t hire anyone with $20,000,” Tu’Inukuafe said.

Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell said the money is meant to “continue or enhance” work already done by community-based organizations.

Police agencies will also receive some of the funding, she said.

“With respect specifically to STR8 UP, they will have the opportunity when the [requests for proposals] go out to further this particular strategy,” Tell said.

READ MORE: Sask. receiving nearly $12M from federal gov’t to fight gun and gang violence

Comprising information from a forum last May, surveys and community consultations, a new report identifies STR8 UP as a leader in the province when it comes to delivering programming to address gangs.

With leadership from STR8 UP, the report provides results from nearly 700 people and about 65 communities.

“Communities consulted were emphatic that the focus of the provincial street gang strategy be on prevention and intervention, not suppression,” the report said.

Across all communities, participants pointed to a lack of stable funding for prevention and intervention – something that will continue to be an issue, according to the report.

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“The focus needs to be on how resources need to be allocated to develop the strongest strategy that can encompass the needs of the people of Saskatchewan,” the report states.

The document includes 24 recommendations for the development of the Saskatchewan Prevention/Intervention Street Gang Strategy.

Dr. Robert Henry, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Calgary, was contracted to conduct the research to form a community-engaged process.

“[Communities] want the police and the corrections to be a part of it, but not the focus of it,” Henry said.

READ MORE: ‘I have purpose’: ex-gang members find fulfillment through Build Up Saskatoon

The report calls on the Saskatchewan government to provide “essential, timely, and adequate funding” to organizations outside of policing and corrections. Provincial money should also go specifically to job training for incarcerated people, according to the report.

Other recommendations include offering communities information on better understanding street gangs, increasing mental health services in northern and rural communities and improving reintegration programming for people leaving correctional facilities.

Tell said the province needs time to consider the recommendations and to see how they fit with the government’s existing strategy toward gangs.

“There will obviously be some that we can incorporate and some that we won’t be able to,” she said.

For STR8 UP, the next step in the formation of provincial strategy is to implement the program. Henry and Tu’Inukuafe said they want to see it expand as soon as possible.

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