Winnipeg is on track to see more teenagers charged with serious and violent crimes than last year, raising concerns among outreach organizations.
According to statistics released by the Winnipeg Police Service, youths were charged in 15 percent of all violent crimes in Winnipeg in 2021, including four homicides.
‘It’s disturbing’: Winnipeg outreach workers concerned about youth crime rate
So far in 2022, four people under the age of 18 are facing charges of varying degrees of murder. In recent weeks, dozens of other teenagers have also faced charges related to stabbings, shootings, assaults and robberies.
CST. Claude Chauncey said. “It’s relevant.”
The Winnipeg Police Association says the increase in violent crime should be addressed.
It’s all part of the growing violence involving teenagers that outreach workers are also concerned about.
“Sadly, they’re joining gangs and they’re joining camps and they’re looking for ways to get their needs back in very unhealthy ways,” St. Boniface Street Links executive director Marion Willis said.
Willis and his outreach team see it firsthand through their work. He said endemic drug addiction and problems arising from the COVID-19 pandemic are a major part of the problem.
“If you look at drug use and you look at violence, and youth violence, a lot of these young people are just living, they know how to live,” he said.
“We’ve had two whole years of not being able to really access services for young people who have less internal resources to get by, who aren’t very good at navigating the system themselves.”
But Willis said a major driving factor has been the decades-long failure to address juveniles falling out of the child welfare system. Many of them end up homeless, she says. This has created a cyclical problem not only for them but also for the children born from them.
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“It’s about making sure you have a seamless, long-term continuity of support that helps people succeed,” he said.
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For many, the struggle starts early in life and one community group is seeing children face difficulties at an early age.
“We’re seeing high levels of addiction with young people, even in the younger age groups,” said Kent Duke, executive director of Inner City Youth Alive. “It’s something new.”
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Duke’s organization serves at-risk children and adolescents in the city’s north end. He said the last two pandemic years took away many resources that were helping troubled teens stay on track.
Many places have had to close during COVID-19 while others have had to significantly reduce the number of people they can serve due to capacity issues.
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“One young man I see all the time in my neighborhood, I’ve literally seen him deteriorate in two years,” he said. “Violence is the sound that creates pain. So we know that the deep root is that we have a lot of pain … people are walking with pain.
Duke described an incident in which a 14-year-old boy his organization was working with was stabbed to death at a Halloween party. He said the fallout from the horrific events could lead to more problems and more crime.
“Seven or eight of our kids witnessed it,” he said.
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While many people will hear or read about the incident, Duke said for those who are closely involved, it can have a lasting effect that leads to more violence for some.
“The little bit of news you get on a violent incident carries over for years after the incident,” he said. “So you now have this blow and snow.”
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Both Willis and Duke agree that the answer isn’t more policing or more arrests, but instead a community coming together. This includes making resources more accessible, providing more support to youth before they turn 18 and out of the system, and helping set youth up for long-term success.
“Young people hurting other people is a reflection of how deeply damaged these young people are,” Willis said. “We need to fix it.”
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