Somali Canadian Facts:
According to Ottawa Social Planning Council: 63.5% of the community is 24 and under, including 43.5% aged 14 and under.  Somalia has only one language, Somali.

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Written by Admin   
Sunday, 25 April 2010 18:49
Police chief, social workers say communities must take threat seriously

By Amira Elghawaby, The Ottawa CitizenApril 17, 2010

The city’s visible-minority youths are being targeted by gangs, warns Ottawa’s police chief, and social workers fear things will get much worse if their ethnic communities don’t take the problem more seriously.

In particular, Chief Vern White says these communities are in the crosshairs of drug-dealing networks that exist in particular neighbourhoods.

“Specific gangs or gang members focus on lower-income housing and they are looking for people who don’t otherwise have strong support systems in their communities,” he explained in an interview. “That does end up targeting new Canadians and minority communities.”

With recent headlines highlighting the murders of close to two dozen Somali youths in Alberta over the past few years, some of whom came from Ontario, Farah Aw-Osman says he isn’t surprised. What alarms the long-time social worker, though, is very few people in either the Somali or Muslim communities are taking this seriously.

“If we don’t pay attention to the challenges that (young people) are facing, then we are ignoring a large segment of our community,” he says, noting that ethnic and faith-based communities are often completely unprepared to deal with issues such as drug dependency.

As head of the Canadian Friends of Somalia, and with funding from Health Canada, Aw-Osman has run workshops for Somali parents and youths about how to identify the signs of drug dependency. But he says much more work needs to be done on a gamut of problems, including religious radicalization and a small but growing number of suicides among young girls.

Considering that the Somali community has been a presence in Ottawa for close to two decades, questions about why many of its members continue to struggle in low-income housing need to be answered first, says Mohamed Sofa, a Somali youth worker who grew up in Ottawa. “We are looking for people who are looking at long-term development and research,” says Sofa.

A community health worker with Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre, Sofa says the Somali community has faced particular challenges.

He points to a report by the Social Planning Council of Ottawa in 2006 that showed 61 per cent of Somalis live in poverty and 64 per cent of the community is under the age of 24.

The last time a concerted, city-wide effort was made to look at the challenges facing Somali youth was back in 2001, says Sofa, when a task force was struck by then-mayor Bob Chiarelli.

Since then, Sofa says, social providers seem to have been working in “silos.” Now, it’s time for a broader coalition to arm itself with information.

“There is a change right now that is coming and that we’ll see more (academic) papers being written about some of the issues,” he says, hopefully, with his own plans to involve Carleton University in a needs assessment for Ottawa’s Somali youth, women and seniors in the near future



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