Social services groups in Port Alberni and the RCMP are asking the city to earmark half a million dollars in their budget discussions to tackle youth violence and criminal activity.
Constable Beth O’Connor of the Port Alberni RCMP, Deb Hamilton of Alberni Drug & Alcohol Prevention Service (ADAPS) and Dave Maher, principal of Eighth Avenue Learning Centre, made a presentation to city council on Monday, Jan. 23 to talk about at-risk youth in the Alberni Valley.
O’Connor explained that between 2020 and 2022, there were a number of youth assaults—on youth, by youth—with the offender and the victim aligning themselves with a group or gang name. Most assaults involved weapons and were perpetrated by youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
The activity came to a head in late 2022 with the cancellation of Nights Alive, a long-running City of Port Alberni program that offers free, drop-in recreational activities for youth.
“This was due to reoccurring safety concerns, not only for the kids who were attending but for the staff and the volunteers,” said O’Connor. “Currently Port Alberni is experiencing a spike in calls for service for kids ages 12 to 15 years old.”
These trends of youth being “lost” to criminality and exploitation are not unique to Port Alberni, said O’Connor. There are a number of elements contributing to a rise in the number of at-risk youth, from an opioid crisis to the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But there are no indications that this is going to end,” said O’Connor. “Or that police or any one agency is going to be able to solve this on its own.”
She recommended a regional approach, with new preventative initiatives focusing on at-risk groups. O’Connor explained that these approaches have seen some success with crime prevention and reduction over a long period of time in the Lower Mainland.
Over the past several months, she said, RCMP have been meeting with Nuu-chah-nulth nations and community partners about at-risk youth.
“We’ve combined our collective knowledge and experience from the front line and believe that there is an urgent need to invest in a comprehensive youth strategy for prevention,” O’Connor said.
This comprehensive youth strategy would take place over a five-year span.
Hamilton acknowledged on Monday that the city is in the best position to advocate to the provincial and federal governments for funding, but also asked the city to earmark half a million dollars in this year’s budget and to contract social service agencies to deliver comprehensive youth services.
Council agreed to refer the discussion to a future budget meeting and asked delegation members to speak to city staff about the specifics of a comprehensive youth strategy.
City budget discussions were scheduled to start during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
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