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This article was published 15/3/2011 (3516 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday resuscitated a national fund to help keep kids out of gangs, just weeks before it was set to die out.
The Youth Gang Prevention Fund will be renewed with $37.5 million over the next five years, Harper announced in British Columbia. The fund was created in 2007 and was set to expire at the end of this month forcing the closure of more than a dozen anti-gang programs nationwide.
Four of the programs are in Winnipeg. A fifth received a reprieve last fall with funding from the City of Winnipeg.
None of the community organizations running those programs had any clue about the renewed funding until contacted by the Free Press. Officials were thrilled but cautious as it is still uncertain exactly how it will affect them.
"I'm shaking I'm so excited," said Liz Wolff, program manager at New Directions.
New Directions runs Oasis, a program for refugees and kids aged 12 to 21 from wartorn countries who are already in gangs or are at risk of joining one and have already been in trouble with the law. Wolff said the program has 12 active kids right now and about 34 have already gone through it.
"The success with these kids has been unbelievable," she said. "These kids have been able to turn their lives around. The recidivism rate is very low."
But Wolff has no idea if the fund renewal means Oasis will automatically get new funding, if it will have to reapply or when it will find out.
As it stands now, five staff members will be laid off at the end of March and the dozen kids currently in the program will be turned away.
Leslie Spillett, executive director at Ka Ni Kanichihk is also thrilled but wary.
"I'm really delighted," she said. "How it impacts us directly, I don't have the detail."
Harper's announcement only gave the bare bones of the commitment. His office directed further questions to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. Toews' spokesman said further details will be announced "soon."
The federal budget will be introduced March 21 and details on how the fund will be dispersed likely won't come until after that.
Together the five programs in Manitoba shared $3.1 million over the last three years. They targeted youth who have already been in trouble and are in or are at risk of joining gangs.
Spillett said Circle of Courage has had tremendous success and a review shows none of the more than 75 aboriginal teenage boys who have come through the program have committed another crime.
"We're keep young people out of the criminal justice system, we're keeping children out of gangs," said Spillett.
Spillett gave notice to five staff they will be laid off March 31 but has extended the lease on their property by one month in the hopes Ottawa would come through.
She said she really hopes they won't have to go back through an application process but is glad the government clearly got the message these programs are valuable.
"This is a government that has listened to us," she said.
NDP MP Pat Martin harassed the government for weeks to renew the funding and was happy Tuesday. But he said the government waiting until the last minute to announce when programs are shutting down and laying people off "irresponsible and reckless"
"I don't understand this game of chicken," he said. "Is there an intention to allow the programs to die out and start over? You don't turn programs off and on like a light switch.