23 Nov 2020

More youth workers needed on the ground in Ōtara - Efeso Collins

7:39 pm on 23 November 2020

A Manukau Ward councillor is echoing the call for more youth workers in the area, following a spate of shootings over the weekend.

Otara Health chairperson Efeso Collins.

Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

There were six gang-related incidents in Ōtara on Friday and Saturday - five of which involved gunshots.

No one was injured during any of the incidents.

Police officers were temporarily armed until early this morning, and seized ammunition and other firearms equipment during property searches yesterday.

Manukau Ward councillor, Efeso Collins, called for the return of government-funded youth workers in Auckland.

He said the youth workers caused gang participation to nosedive, and crime levels bounced back after the $3 million to fund the workers was withdrawn in 2017.

"[When] you take youth workers away, you're taking away intelligence from the community and the police. If a cop turns up to a gang headquarters, that's just going to create violence - you're expecting a war."

He said youth workers and police could work alongside each other to collect information about gangs and where recruitment activities were occuring.

"[Recruitment activities] all go on either at school, church or after-school hours, that's where the youth workers are most effective.

"If we've got them on the streets, on the ground, supporting our young people who are being exposed to all sorts of glamorised violence, then we've got the ability to support them and nuture them through school and through home.

"We don't have that any more, and unfortunately this is the result."

Collins said the Covid-19 lockdowns had a silver lining because people were off the streets, but it did not solve long-simmering issues.

"We had lingering issues prior to Covid-19. We took everyone off the streets, but we didn't take the problems away."

He said the issues, such as turf wars between gangs, have continued.

"You've got this inter-gang rivalry and competiton as to who owns what streets."

He said increased social support - particularly youth workers - would make a world of difference.

Maria Peach, who works in South Auckland, said social deprivation needed to be addressed.

"There needs to be a massive investment in eradicating poverty, looking at the way that our community is expoilted as labour."

She said there used to be plenty of jobs available for the community 20 years ago, but employment opportunities had dwindled.

"Now it's so hard for young people to find work - maybe 400 or 500 people for one job. If you eradicate poverty then people aren't going to resort to other means to earn money."

Ōtara Business Association manager Rana Judge said the spate of shootings did not help bring people out to the town centre already hit by Covid-19.

"Due to Covid, our town centre has slowed down, we don't get many customers ... many people lost their jobs. A lot of people are concerned for their health."

Social Development minister Carmel Sepuloni was not available for an interview but RNZ understands she had sought advice to clarify the concerns raised.

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive for Māori, Communities and Partnerships, Marama Edwards, said the ministry was one of a number of government agencies and community agencies providing support to the community in South Auckland.

Among these was Affirming Works and Vahefonua Tonga Methodist Mission SIAOLA which delivered youth gang prevention services in South Auckland.

Edwards said the ministry provided funding for an Affirming Works staff member to work with services that engage with children and youth to counteract gang activities.

"Vahefonua Tonga Methodist Mission SAOLA is funded to work closely with Tongan families to develop gang prevention resources," she said.

"This includes working with families to educate and equip Tongan communities on how to prevent young people from being recruited by gangs."

Edwards said the ministry also provided a range of programmes for youth aged between 18 and 24 on the benefit to support them as they find employment.

"This includes supporting youth transitioning from school to gain driver licences and industry-based certificates, [such as] Site Safe and forklift training.

"The Youth Service supports young parents and youth without financial support from parents, and those considered NEET (not in education, employment or training) by engaging the young people to achieve improved well-being through sustained education, training, work-based learning or employment outcomes."

Through the Ministry of Youth Development, MSD provided approximately $360,000 to support youth development programmes and services in Auckland for young people aged between 12 and 24.

"The Ministry of Youth Development supports initiatives focused on supporting young people including peer-to-peer mentoring, holistic leadership and wellbeing programmes, and entrepreneurial education, including enterprise mentoring," Edwards said.

"Our Auckland MSD regional office is also working closely with community leaders to understand their needs and to provide support for initiatives. They have allocated $200,000 in funding to scale up on the ground community support."


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