In 2012, the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta., was in crisis. Violent crime was at an all-time high and school absenteeism was through the roof — more than 300 young people were involved in 13 active gangs in the 8,000-person First Nations community just south of Edmonton.
"We had all these indicators that there was something going on with youth, so we began looking for answers," says Vernon Saddleback, Chief of Samson. "We had to think about how to introduce something that would change the outcome for our people and our kids."
After hearing about the success of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan's HUB model — a community-led collaboration table with police and service agencies — Saddleback and members of the Maskwacis RCMP detachment decided it was worth trying out in Samson.
In September of that year, teachers in the community were shocked at how empty their schools were. They approached the school board asking for help and just a few days later, the Samson HUB went live.
Since then, the Maskwacis RCMP Community Response Unit helped Ermineskin, another reserve in the area, set up a HUB. Now they're setting up new HUBs in the remaining two reserves in Maskwacis.
Once per week, the HUBs mobilize to discuss cases that individual agencies can't handle on their own. Service providers like Community Wellness, Maskwacis Youth Initiative, Education, Housing, Income Support, Health Services, Probation and Child and Family Services work together with the RCMP to offer services to people who are at risk of harming themselves or their community.
"The goal is to intervene early to reduce crime, violence and victimization," says Cst. Morgan Kyle, a community resource officer at the Maskwacis RCMP detachment. "It's a proactive, rather than a reactive approach."
For a case to be referred to the HUB table, it must have three or more risk factors, which can include alcohol, drugs, mental health, criminal behaviour, truancy, housing, gang association and parenting issues. Once a case is accepted at the table, relevant agencies identify themselves and work together to come up with a plan of action to reduce the risk.
"It's really broken down silos," says Saddleback, who chairs the HUB meetings. "Now departments are working together, managers know each other's cell numbers and caseloads for all agencies are down because we're using the right resources to address issues."
The RCMP provides most of the referrals to the HUB tables, since they track files in the Police Reporting and Occurrence System (PROS). Christall Paul is the criminal intelligence analyst at the Maskwacis RCMP detachment who keeps tabs on all the files in PROS, and identifies cases to bring to the HUB tables.
"I look for files coded for things like mental health, domestic violence or drug trafficking, and I'll read the history of the individual or family and count up the risk factors," says Paul. "Instead of reacting after the fact, we're trying to identify elevated risk factors before they trigger a serious incident."
But in order to address those risk factors, there has to be sufficient community support and services already in place. That's one thing the HUB improved in Samson — it identified needs in the community and highlighted services that were lacking. It's been a stepping stone for the creation of many new programs.
"One thing we noticed was that there wasn't a lot of things for youth to do at night. We kept getting repeat calls for youth who were causing issues," says Kyle. "That's one thing HUB has brought to Samson — more youth programming to keep kids busy."
Saddleback says since the HUB started in 2012, the number of gangs and the amount violence has decreased significantly. He says community members are now more willing to talk, and push back — they all want a safer community.
"I'm not after gangsters, I'm after the causes that allow people to be gangsters," says Saddleback. "HUB has helped give community members the choice to be something else, so they can choose to be better, healthier people."