The Pacific Centre Family Services Association on Goldstream Avenue is home to the crime reduction and expolitation diversion, a program dedicated to helping local youth entrenched in gangs find a way out. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Youth gangs a ‘significant issue’ on the West Shore

Number of youth involved with gangs grow from 30 to 40 youth to 73, says expert

Drug trafficking, assault, robbery and prostitution are not usually issues associated with the West Shore.

But underneath issues such as the Colwood Crawl and its booming population, youth gangs are becoming an increasing problem in the western communities.

“A lot of people don’t realize what’s happening on the streets of Victoria … It’s a significant issue,” said Mia Golden, co-ordinator of the crime reduction and exploitation diversion (CRED) program with the Pacific Centre Family Services Association on Goldstream Avenue.

“Often youth gangs are thought of as nothing, just a bunch of kids doing silly things. But every youth gang has the potential to become a significant issue.”

RELATED: Province gives $500K to anti-gang program in Surrey

As part of the CRED program, Golden helps youth entrenched in gangs leave that lifestyle, and provides prevention and mentorship to youth who are vulnerable to becoming involved in criminal and gang activities. Originally started in 2012, the program is modelled after the Wraparound anti-gang program in Surrey.

Over the past six years, Golden has seen her case load balloon from between 30 to 40 youth to 73 who are at-risk of gang involvement throughout Greater Victoria, 35 of whom are specifically from the West Shore and Sooke areas. However, there are “considerably more” that she is aware of but are not accessing support.

Not only are there more youth involved, but they’re starting from a young age. Before, Golden was seeing youth between the ages of 14 to 19 involved with gangs, but now youth as young as 11 years old are becoming entrenched in that lifestyle.

Youth gangs often begin as a group of teenagers getting together and partying, but can quickly escalate to drug dealing, extortion, robberies, thefts and assaults.

Most recently, a youth gang called the West Coast Goat F***ers (WCGF) roamed the streets of the West Shore and were involved in drug dealing, theft, robberies, extortion and assault. At the height of its existence, the gang had more than 20 members and were responsible for more than 200 police files in 2013.

Currently, there are at least two youth gangs specifically operating on the West Shore that are dealing drugs and weapons, Golden said. However, that number can often change, as many youth gangs are unorganized and dissolve in a matter of weeks, months or years, usually as a result of disputes between members.

But it’s the allure of gang lifestyle that often pulls youth back in and one that could lead to being recruited by older, more organized gangs. For example, a number of youth from the WCGF were recruited by the Victoria gang, the Nortenos.

But gang life isn’t as glamorous as what is seen in movies, and dispelling the myths of gangs is the goal of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit’s End Gang Life.

“[They] think they have lots of money and material things. It may seem that way, but the reality is … a lot of these kids get in over their head and owe a debt to whoever their boss is and they never pay it back,” said Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, spokesperson for the unit. “They think they’re feared and respected wherever they go, but in all reality rival gang members are always trying to take out other gang members from the trade.”

Older gangs begin recruiting youth by developing a relationship with them through social media – called boyfriending – before encouraging youth to meet up with them at parties and luring them with the promise of alcohol, drugs and sex. Often they will get youth addicted to drugs, which makes them easier to manipulate.

Once in gangs, they get youth to do their “dirty work,” said Golden – work that often includes dealing drugs, weapons trafficking and recruiting girls and boys as young as 12 to 14 for prostitution. Some youth are tasked with collecting debts, which often means assaulting someone.

Working part-time with the program, Golden feels like she’s strapping a band-aid on a wound that’s already festering.

That’s why the association has applied to the provincial and federal governments to increase funding for the program to $130,000 for 2018/19 to bring Golden up to full-time hours, and add another full-time and part-time co-ordinator to work with youth.

Funding would allow Golden to increase prevention, by going into middle schools to do presentations about the dangers of being in a gang.

“A lot of it is who intervenes first, is it the supports or is it the recruiters? It’s critical,” she said. “I’m not able to do prevention pieces, which means in five years, we’re going to see an even bigger issue if there aren’t proper interventions put in place. We’re always playing catch up, we’re always behind the eight-ball rather than getting in front of it.”

For more information about the CRED program visit pacificcentrefamilyservices.org.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Mia Golden is the program co-ordinator of the crime reduction and exploitation diversion at the Pacific Centre Family Sevices Association on Goldstream Avenue. Golden works with youth around Greater Victoria, including 35 specifically in the West Shore and Sooke areas, who are involved with local youth gangs and are looking for a way out. (Kendra Wong/News Gazette staff)

Just Posted

Saanich police are warning residents that rutting season has begun and deer may get their antlers tangled in items left in yards. (Saanich Police Department/Twitter)
Deer with items tangled in antlers spotted in Saanich as rutting season begins

Police, B.C. Conservation Service warn of possibly aggressive bucks through fall

(Black Press Media file photo)
One man injured, Victoria police seek more suspects afer Centennial Square brawl

Police were called around 4:30 p.m. for reports of multiple people fighting

Saanich firefighters were called out to Hartland Road on Oct. 21 to help transport a mountain biker with neck and back injuries out of the woods. (Black Press Media file photo)
Patient with neck, back injuries rescued from Saanich bike trails

Saanich firefighters called in to help paramedics with transportation off Mount Work

Saanich South Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma commits to addressing issues at the five-way intersection of Interurban and Wilkinson roads in partnership with the municipality if elected. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich South Liberal candidate commits to improving Interurban/Wilkinson intersection

‘Confusing five-way intersection,’ needs attention, Rishi Sharma says

Oulette the Great Horned owl was spotted alive just days after her mate, Ollie, was found dead from suspected rat poisoning on Oct. 17. (Photo by Cheryl Redhead)
Great Horned owl mate found alive in Cuthbert Holmes Park

Oulette spotted in tree above where male Ollie died of suspected poisoning

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BC VOTES 2020: Mid-Island candidate plans occupation of shelter to protest homelessness

Graham Hughes says homeless situation a ‘crisis’ in Port Alberni

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter. Photo supplied
Wanted man from Calgary may be on Vancouver Island

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter

FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
POLL: Have you voted yet?

As election day quickly approaches, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have… Continue reading

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for parts of Vancouver Island for Thursday and Friday.(File photo)
Snowfall expected in parts of Vancouver Island this week

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for north, east and inland Vancouver Island

Most Read