Building up community members through community partnerships

By in Opinions

Build Up Saskatoon, a new partnership between STR8 UP and Quint Development Corporation, offers meaningful employment opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals in hopes of breaking the cycle of criminal and gang-related activity in Saskatoon.

According to a 2015 study in Public Health, youth gang involvement is a growing issue in Canada. The National Crime Prevention Centre notes that risk factors for gang involvement include a lack of education and employment opportunities. Public Health also reports that membership in gangs may often result in traumatic stress, substance use and socio-economic vulnerability.

Gang members are those who have lived through risk factors beyond their control, later becoming caught in a cycle of violence and criminal activity that impacts opportunities later in life. This is where STR8 UP comes in to offer help and support.

A Build-Up Saskatoon member poses for a photo.

STR8 Up’s website describes the organization as a grassroots movement supporting ex-gang members and their families in Saskatoon. The group offers healing supports, professional development, sharing circles and family-friendly programming. The organization’s website states that their healing model shows “that a healthy alternative to gang life is possible.”

Formerly incarcerated individuals or ex-gang members often have difficulty finding employment as a result of social stigma and public perception. This can result in increased social vulnerability and can contribute to a return to old routines, which may include criminal or violent activity.

Overall, the group aims to encourage and support their members by implementing positive changes in their lives in hopes of reducing the chances of them returning to criminal and/or violent activities. STR8 UP and its programming offer people a chance to change these narratives.

By partnering with Quint Development Corporation, STR8 UP has developed Build Up Saskatoon, a contracting business that offers physical-labour employment to individuals who were formerly incarcerated or who are in transition out of gang life.

This is a great step toward addressing gang-related activity in Saskatoon, as gangs will often seek out society’s most vulnerable individuals across racial, economic and cultural lines. The Youth Gang Prevention Fund of Canada notes that providing young people with alternatives to gangs is one of the strongest evidence-based approaches to reducing youth violence. The Quint Development Corporation Facebook page advertises the business as an opportunity to provide skill-based training, motivation and meaningful work to disadvantaged individuals.

A Build-Up Saskatoon member poses for a photo.

A harsh, punishment-based approach to justice sees formerly incarcerated individuals as needing to pay the price for the rest of their lives. Instead, social rehabilitation should begin by offering tools for change and encouraging strengths rather than defining people by their weaknesses.

Programs like Build Up are one step towards ending the cycle of vulnerability and stigma that contributes to violent activity. Transitioning out of criminal activity is a difficult and brave act, but unfortunately, the continuous stigma often leads people to rejoin the cycle of trauma that they have taken steps to escape.

Build Up highlights the importance of community support. Becoming caught in a cycle of violence and crime is not entirely the result of individual choice, but rather, a compilation of social vulnerabilities and pain, upon which gangs prey for new membership. By supporting individuals in improving their economic and employment circumstances, Build Up contributes to breaking the cycle by welcoming individuals back to society with open arms.

Everyone deserves the chance to access tools to improve their lives. Individual and collective healing are one in the same, and it all begins by eliminating the stigma that our punishment-based society enforces on those who have already served their time.

Raquel Alvarado

Photos: Dana Jacobs / Supplied