The Manitoba government announced Nov. 19 that it is providing $2.1 million over three years to re-establish a StreetReach program in Thompson.
Modelled after the Dallas, Texas police department’s high-risk victims unit, StreetReach’s main goals are to stop children and youth from running away from home, prevent future sexual abuse and exploitation, redirect runaway children to prevent them from being victimized and intervening to stop those who exploit young, high-risk victims.
Established in 2009, with teams in Winnipeg as well as one in Thompson, which was later discontinued, StreetReach brings together law enforcement, child welfare and non-governmental organizations to help prevent children from being victimized and drawn into the sex trade.
“We know more resources are needed in Northern Manitoba to reduce the numbers of people involved in the justice system, and ensure they have the supports and care they need,” said Families Minister Heather Stefanson in a press release. “These investments will ensure we are better supporting Manitobans in crisis and building stronger communities by providing mental health and addictions services.”
Funding to re-establish the Thompson StreetReach team will include one-time costs of $124,000 plus $225,000 this year, as well as $900,000 in each of the next two years. The Winnipeg-based StreetReach program and the Thompson RCMP received funding from the Criminal Property Forfeiture Fund last February for an initiative known as Project Deliver Home, which engaged 185 youth, checked 27 addresses to locate missing youth, returned 56 youth to safe places, made four arrests and located one intoxicated youth who was returned to a safe place between February and October.
“Thompson consistently has one of the highest numbers of reported missing youths in the province,” said Manitoba RCMP north district commander Supt. Kevin Lewis. “The RCMP’s partnership with the StreetReach program allows us to work collaboratively, so we can identify at-risk and vulnerable youth, locate them quickly, and ensure they are returned to safety.”
Thompson RCMP receive about six to eight missing persons reports nightly, often involving youth in care who have not returned home by their curfew, Staff Sgt. Chris Hastie told the City of Thompson’s public safety committee at their Nov. 14 meeting.
The first step in creating the new Thompson StreetReach team will be community consultations to create partnerships and working to integrate existing mobile crisis and addiction programs, including mental health, addictions and spiritual/elder supports.
Former mayor Dennis Fenske wrote a letter to the province in September 2018, about a month before his term ended, asking for the StreetReach North program to be re-established. At that time, the province said it was requesting proposals to evaluate the effectiveness of the Street Reach program.
“Over the last year, our council has worked hard to foster positive relationships with the province," said Mayor Colleen Smook in a post on the City of Thompson’s Facebook page. "Together with the expertise and commitment of our partners, we have provided hard facts and numbers to demonstrate our community needs. We’re extremely happy to see that our approach is paying off, and we’re excited to keep working with the province to build greater understanding towards new solutions.”
The province is also providing $55,000 to enhance a community mobilization hub in Thompson. Hubs connect social service professionals and community agencies with at-risk youth and families to ensure they are receiving the supports and interventions. The province’s Policing and Public Safety Strategy announced in May 2019 identifies community mobilization as a good way to build partnerships, prevent crime and help keep at-risk individuals out of the criminal justice system.
“Together, these services will increase protection and safety for sexually exploited youth in Northern Manitoba and reduce the likelihood of them moving or being trafficked to Winnipeg,” said Justice Minister Cliff Cullen.