'Living the only lives they know': Winnipeg outreach organizations concerned with youth violence

Winnipeg is on track to see more teens charged with serious and violent crimes than last year, which is raising concerns among outreach organizations. Brittany Greenslade reports.

Winnipeg is on track to see more teens charged with serious and violent crimes than last year, which is raising concerns among outreach organizations.

According to statistics released by the Winnipeg Police Service, youths were charged in 15 per cent of all violent crimes in Winnipeg in 2021, including four homicides.

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So far in 2022, four people under the age of 18 are facing different degrees of murder charges. In recent weeks, there have also been dozens of other teens facing charges related to stabbings, shootings, assaults and robberies.

“We’ve had a lot of instances where our youths have been involved,” Cst. Claude Chancy said. “It’s concerning.”

It’s all part of escalating violence involving teenagers that outreach workers are concerned about as well.

“Sadly, they’re joining gangs and they’re joining encampments and they’re finding ways to get their needs back in very unhealthy ways,” St. Boniface Street Links executive director Marion Willis said.

Willis and her outreach team see it first hand through their work. She said the drug endemic and the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic are a large part of the problem.

“If you look at the drug use and you look at the violence, and youth violence out there, a lot of these young people are living the only lives they know how to live,” she said.

“We’ve had two full years of all of us really not being able to access services for young people who have fewer internal resources to draw from, who are not very good at navigating systems on their own.”

But Willis said a major driving factor has been decades of failing to address teenagers aging out of the child welfare system. She says many of them end up homeless. It’s created a cyclical problem for not just them but for the kids who are born out of it.

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“It’s about making sure that you have a seamless, long term continuum of supports that helps people be successful,” she said.

For many the struggles start early on in their lives and one community group is seeing kids getting into trouble younger and younger.

“We’re seeing higher levels of addiction in younger age brackets with youth as well,” Inner City Youth Alive executive director Kent Dueck said. “That’s something new.”

Dueck’s organization helps at-risk children and teens in the north end of the city. He said the last two pandemic years took away many of the resources that were helping troubled teens stay on track.

Many places had to close during COVID-19 while others had to significantly reduce the number of people they could help due to capacity issues.

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“One young man I see in our neighborhood all the time, I’ve literally seen his deterioration over two years,” he said. “Violence is the sound that pain makes. So we know that the deeper root is that we have lots of pain … people walking with pain.”

Dueck described one incident in which a 14-year-old that his organization had been working with was stabbed to death at a Halloween party. He said the ripple effects created from horrifying incidents can lead to more problems and more crimes.

“Seven or eight of our kids witnessed that,” he said.

While many people will hear or read about the incident, Dueck said for those who are closely connected, it can have a lasting impact that leads to more violence for some.

“That little news bite that you get on a violent incident, that incident pours out for years after that,” he said. “So you have that now multiplying and snowballing.”

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Both Willis and Dueck agree the answer is not more policing or more arrests, but instead a community coming together. That includes making resources more accessible, providing more support for youth before they turn 18 and age out of the system and helping set teens up for longer-term success.

“Young people are hurting other people as a reflection of just how deeply hurt those young people are,” Willis said. “We need to fix this.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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