Surrey City saves federally funded anti-gang program from ending

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The City of Surrey announced last week that the City Council is moving the award-winning Surrey Anti-Gang Family Empowerment Program (SAFE) program into core City programming, after the five-year funding from Public Safety Canada concludes at the end of this month.

In 2019, the federal government provided the City with $7.5 million to help address gang activity in Surrey. The funding came after the 2018 Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention released a list of recommendations that resulted in the development of programming that supports young people to avoid criminal exploitation.

SAFE’s multi-agency collaborative model emerged as a first-of-its-kind approach to preventing and addressing youth gang involvement. It is made up of 10 organizations that deliver 11 individual programs to support children, youth and families in Surrey.

“The SAFE Program has not only met but exceeded expectations and is on track to support 5,000 Surrey residents by the end of this year,” said Mayor Brenda Locke. “With SAFE now being part of the City’s core programming we can continue to provide supports and services that help build strong, diverse, safe, resilient kids and families in Surrey.”

“Council has decided to make SAFE a part of the city’s core programming and have committed to funding it to the tune of $1.5 million annually,” Locke said.

Rajan, a youth who got involved with drug trafficking, and how SAFE program saved him, is one such example. Rajan’s story is recorded in SAFE’s achievement booklet.

Rajan’s involvement with drug trafficking had caught up with him in more ways than one. While reporting to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) for a probation order, Rajan received death threats over social media from a local gang due to a drug debt.

Given the severity of the threat, Rajan’s mother and siblings vacated the family home to stay with friends. Fearing for his safety, Rajan refused to leave the home and even began sleeping in the same bed as his father.

MCFD requested that Options Community Service assist with coordinating a plan for the family. After assessing all risks, the family and professionals agreed it would be safest for them to relocate outside of Surrey.

Through its High Risk Youth Justice (HRYJ) program, Options Community Services brings together community service agencies, probation services and other agencies to deliver life skills training and support to children and youth.

Options helped the family identify an out of province destination where they could start fresh and then secured funds to pay for moving costs the family could not afford.

A police escort to the borders of the lower mainland was also arranged to ensure the family set off safely. Options ensured the family arrived and was aware of services in their new home. This rapid planning and advocacy likely prevented a tragedy.

Earlier this year, the federal government invested nearly $4M to launch the Surrey Youth Resiliency Program, an initiative similar to SAFE. This program is anticipated to support 2,000 more youth and families over the next three years.

Empower Surrey, developed in 2021, has helped parents learn ways to recognize and address warning signs for gang involvement. To date, there have been roughly 30,000 visits to the website and more than 850 parents supported through interactive Empower Surrey Parent Workshops which have generated numerous referrals to SAFE programming, the City informed.

Learn more about the SAFE Program at surrey.ca/safe.