Feds offer $1M to strengthen ‘Focus Toronto’ intervention program

The federal government will give Toronto $1 million over the next three years to strengthen an interventionprogram for people believed to be at high risk of committing crimes or becoming the victims of crime.

The Focus Toronto program operates in four areas of the city and uses a collaborative approach involving police, social workers, public health, counsellors, community groups and educators to identify people and families “at elevated risk of victimization or offending,” according to a 2015 assessment of the program.

The program often involves people suffering from mental health problemsand addiction or families with a history of domestic disturbance, and helps connect them with the help they need, before they become ensnared in the criminal justice system.

“The funding will mean more resources and better training for frontline workers and law enforcement to counter radicalization to violent extremism,” Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Eglinton-Lawrence MP Marco Mendicino said. “The Focus (Toronto) team will have a greater ability to examine cases of individuals at high risk of radicalization to violence.”

Mendicino and Toronto PoliceChief Mark Saunders indicated the new money would come from a fund meant to counter radicalization in communities, but Focus Toronto’s efforts are usually aimed at more common issues.

A 2015 evaluation of Focus Toronto’s efforts in the Rexdale neighbourhood found that nearly two thirds of cases there involved people suffering from mental health issues that observers feared would lead to policeinvolvement.

Suicide risk and domestic abuse were also significant risk factors seen in many cases Focus Toronto dealt with in Rexdale.

Toronto Mayor John Tory gave Focus Toronto significant praise and said the money would help them do even better.

“It’s something to behold. What you have there are some of the smartest, most dedicated, most sensitive, most informed people from all walks of professional life, focusing themselves on individual cases, person by person, in a sensitive, professional way.”

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