Support in ‘survival mode’: The legacy of CeaseFire Halifax

Over four and half years, it's estimated CeaseFire, the program, touched 40,000 people in the HRM. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports.

It’s been nearly a year since CeaseFire Halifax closed its doors, after more than four years of working with high-risk groups to prevent violence in their communities.

During that time, its staff developed close relationships with clients that often had challenges trusting outsiders. Outreach workers supported and embraced people at risk of participating in violent crime, and found ways to connect them with critical services.

And today, its former program manager is worried that no one is there for those individuals who may not feel comfortable accessing traditional kinds of help.

“I remember getting a call at maybe 8:30, 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning from a client,” Mel Lucas told Global News from his living room in Lucasville, N.S.

“This particular chap, he was in trouble and he needed help. Well, there’s nobody to take those calls anymore.”

Mel Lucas, former program manager for CeaseFire Halifax, speaks about its legacy from his Lucasville, N.S. home on June 12, 2019.
Mel Lucas, former program manager for CeaseFire Halifax, speaks about its legacy from his Lucasville, N.S. home on June 12, 2019. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

READ MORE: CeaseFire Halifax to receive funding for the next three months – but not from the HRM

CeaseFire closed on July 15 last year after its funding ran out.

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Modelled after an American organization, it focused on African Nova Scotian youth at risk of becoming involved in gang violence, and presented alternative choices. Since 2013, it’s estimated CeaseFire Halifax touched 40,000 people in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“You know we’re making a difference when you have a program that was initially mandated to work with Black males between the ages of 16 and 24, (and) all of a sudden, you have individuals who are being referred or talking to our staff who are Caucasian, who are Indigenous, who are female, and need help,” said Lucas.

He’s concerned no other programming can fill in the gaps left by CeaseFire. Its volunteers spent time with people in “survival mode,” and who “like to play with guns,” he described. And against the odds, he added, CeaseFire Halifax earned their trust.

“If you can’t get that community support, the program is going to be dead in the water,” he explained. “But that’s one of the problems in providing funding for these organizations, (that) last a minute and they’re gone.

“How do you rebuild that trust in the communities?”

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READ MORE: Nova Scotia gets $4.7-million to target gun violence, human trafficking

Since CeaseFire shuttered, a variety of crime prevention and recreation programs led by the Halifax Regional Municipality and provincial Justice Department have aimed to integrate aspects of its outreach model into their operations.

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Earlier this year, the federal government announced a new $4.7-million pot for crime and human trafficking prevention in Nova Scotia over five years. Last week, the province announced its call for funding proposals.

The Community Justice Society, which oversaw CeaseFire’s funding while it was up and running, said it will apply for a portion of that cash with a proposal that tackles some of CeaseFire’s specialties, including reducing gun violence.

“The elements of that program are something that we’re very interested in, and working with others in the community who have that same interest is a prime focus of ours,” said executive director Barbara Miller Nix. “Partnerships get us a lot further.”

CeaseFire was one program in a broader system of restorative justice, she explained, and while what’s to come will not be its second iteration, it will contribute to creating safer communities.