The federal government has announced more than $7 million in funding to address gang violence in the City of Toronto.

Bill Blair, the federal minister in charge of reducing organized crime, made the announcement following a meeting with Mayor John Tory at city hall on Thursday morning.

The money, part of $327 million in federal funds that was previously set aside to fight gun and gang violence, will go towards two community-based initiatives in the city.

The largest investment – $6.7 million over five years – will go to the City of Toronto’s Community Healing Project for Crime Prevention and Intervention.

That programs aims to train 250 young people as “peer healers,” who will then work to support other young people who are considered vulnerable to becoming involved in gangs and violence.

Meanwhile, another $400,000 over two years will go towards the Toronto Police Service’s Life Skills to Succeed Program, something Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said will have a “direct effect” on his force.

That program will see officers in eight priority neighbourhoods connect with approximately 360 at-risk youth by leading six-month long skill development sessions.

In an emotional exchange with reporters, Saunders said the city’s gun crime problem is his “number one concern.”

“I’ve got young black boys killing other young black boys,” he said.

“The funds that are going directly to the Toronto police service, the $400,000, will have a direct effect on at least 350 of our young men and women in those neighbourhoods that have high crime, that are looking for solutions, that are asking for solutions, that are asking for the funding. This funding speaks specifically to that.”

Blair echoed his sentiment, but noted that the decision goes deeper than financial aid.

“We heard from both the city and the Toronto Police Service. Both came in and made a compelling case with evidence of what works and they have asked us to invest in what works because they need to do more and they want to do more,” Blair told reporters. “This isn’t just throwing money at a problem. I don’t believe in throwing money at a problem, I believe in effective and smart action but effective and smart action does require funding support from all three levels of government. We are here to do our part.”

The federal funding announced on Thursday morning comes at the tail end of a particularly violent year in the city.

Toronto has seen more than 400 shooting occurrences in 2018, up from the 371 reported shootings in 2017.

There has also been a total of 95 homicides, which is all-time high.

One of the most recent incidents of violence occurred on Wednesday when shots were fired outside an elementary school in the city’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood as students were getting ready to be dismissed for the day. Fortunately no injuries were reported.

“I will be dammed if we give up on these kids, the city will be dammed if we give up on these kids,” Spadina—Fort York, MP Adam Vaughan said during Thursday’s news conference. “To drive by and not respond to the very clear needs being expressed in communities right across this city and to not make investments to change the opportunities for youth in this city is to invite more of this violence to take root and become permanent. If we give up on these kids they will give up on us.”

Dwayne Wright, a youth advocate within the Jane and Finch neighbourhood and contributor with Jane-Finch.com, said that he grew up questioning where he would die young.

“I personally have heard many gunshots living here, so it’s like, just growing up, like, you become immune to the loud sounds after a while. It becomes like a lullaby,” he said.

In order to combat the gun violence, Wright said that young people need to be more open about their experiences and take part in community discussions.

“We need to address the issues that are taking place. I think there are a lot of territorial problems and I’ve been saying that we need to come together.”

The city has submitted applications for more than $30 million in federal funding to support numerous community-based programs aimed at reducing gun and gang violence and Mayor John Tory said on Thursday that he has “been led to believe” that more money will be forthcoming.

He said that the two programs receiving funding on Thursday and the other programs with funding applications that are still being considered all have the ability to make a real difference in certain crime-plagued communities.

“While you do have to measure each and every one of these initiatives to make sure that they work I think it has been proven time and time again that when you invest in these communities, when you support the police and when you have laws that are adequate to the task you are going to make a difference,” he said. “These are the kinds of initiatives that are going to make a positive difference going forward and make me confident that things will be better in 2019.”