Project to help young people caught up in drugs trade at 'funding cliff edge'

Project to help young people caught up in drugs trade at 'funding cliff edge'

The TRY project, located in St Teresa’s Gardens complex, in the south inner city, operates under the Donore Community Drug and Alcohol Team. File photo: Steve Parsons/PA

A street project working with volatile young people caught up in the drugs trade again faces a “funding cliff-edge” and needs the intervention of State agencies to survive, according to an evaluation report.

The TRY project, based around an infamous inner-city Dublin flats complex currently undergoing regeneration, should be expanded into other areas battling drugs, gangs and disadvantage, according to the study.

The report points out that the current annual funding of €100,000 to the project – which currently caters for 39 people – is almost a quarter of the cost of keeping one child in Oberstown Detention Centre for a year or just above the cost of imprisoning one adult in prison for a year.

The TRY project, located in St Teresa’s Gardens complex, in the south inner city, operates under the Donore Community Drug and Alcohol Team.

It is around the corner from a gun attack a week ago in which a 17-year-old escaped with his life after being shot repeatedly.

Since it started as a pilot in 2017, TRY has faced regular funding crises, some of them previously highlighted in the Irish Examiner.

Fearghal Connolly, Manager of the Donore CDAT, said the project “stands at a funding cliff edge”, saying it was the third time the project faced the axe.

He said the current funding, through Sláintecare, is due to run out in June 2021, with no sense of how or whether it might continue.

“This project urgently needs to be supported for at least three to five years, mainstreamed and extended to other areas in the city and across the country, not left hanging,” said Connolly.

It is a far better policy option than spending money on locking up young people and throwing away their futures. It is a far better option than seeing children and young people being groomed and led into a life of drugs, crime and fear. 

The project works with boys and girls over the age of 14 and men and women between 18 and 25.

While some of them are locals, others are from neighbouring areas in Crumlin, Drimnagh and James’ Street area.

Many of the males are involved in the drug trade and described in the report by some locals as “very hostile and angry”.

Karl Ducque, who runs the project, said it engages in intensive outreach first.

“We had to go to them, meet them where they were at, [and be] non-judgmental, emphatic. They are so set in their ways, they are going to be standing in stairwells smoking joints or selling or creating a bit of hassle.” 

He added: “There has to be a level of authenticity coming to these people, you have to be real, for me what I done I did use my own experience of growing up in the north inner city in a flat complex with these young people. You are building that relationship and they are thinking 'well this guy was just like me'.” 

He said building up relationships on a one-to-one basis was where “the magic happens” and you can, over time, have a positive influence on them.

Independent researcher, Jane Mulcahy, who conducted the evaluation said 39 participants in TRY had engaged constructively with the programme, moving from lives spent hanging around, involved in anti-social behaviour and drug dealing towards education, training, employment as well as health and drug treatment services.

The report, Relentless Caring – TRYING something new, said levels of visible drug dealing in St Teresa’s Gardens have dropped significantly, attributed by many to the work of TRY, and that the main “gang” congregating in the area has effectively disintegrated.

The report said that the total funding provided to TRY (under €100,000 per annum) was less than the annual cost of detaining just one young person in Oberstown (€385,000 a year roughly) and is not far above the annual cost of imprisoning one adult (€75,350 a year approximately).

“Funding has been unstable since the start of the project,” said Dr Mulcahy. 

“If core funding isn’t forthcoming soon, unfortunately this project won’t be able to be sustained and the great work that Karl and the team will have to be disbanded and that would be an awful shame.” 

She said these projects depend on the relationships between the workers and the young people.

“It depends on the relational dimension – the authenticity of peer mentors, being relentless in the caring and meeting the young people where they are at – on the stairwells and street corners and helping them feel safe in the peer mentors' presence.

“Without that sense of safety, nothing else is going to happen - there will be no bridging to any services if people don’t trust the mentors in the first place.”

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