Winnipeg’s Bear Clan Patrol, in only a few years, has gone from a small community safety patrol in the city’s North End, to an ever-expanding fixture on Winnipeg streets.
The volunteer-based organization has seen considerable growth in recent years, and announced a further expansion into Portage la Prairie on Nov. 30.
They are also expanding into a bigger location on Selkirk Avenue in the new year after they quickly outgrew their original space.
Bear Clan volunteers told 680 CJOB that, despite the inherent dangers in a role that involves picking up thousands of used syringes and sometimes talking down violent, intoxicated people, going out on patrol is a rewarding experience.
“A lot of people feel safe when they see us walking around,” said Susan Chief, a Bear Clan volunteer for more than four years.
Chief said her most harrowing experience as a volunteer was being first on the scene to help a boy whose fingers had been cut with a machete. She was able to help the victim, and said he was able to keep his digits thanks, in part, to the Bear Clan’s response.
The incident wasn’t enough to dissuade her from going back out on patrol.
“You become part of a huge family,” she said. “We all look out for each other, help out each other.”
Volunteer William Allen said there’s a misconception of the dangers that accompany the job, and that Winnipeggers should get involved to see for themselves.
“Some people don’t know what the North End is all about and don’t want to know, maybe,” he said.
“As far as risk, I think we minimize it. We have safety procedures we always follow. I can’t say I’ve found myself personally to be at risk, hardly ever.
“I think we do a good job of trying to support the community … to provide the safety part of getting the syringes off the street is a very rewarding experience.”
Allen, a two-year veteran of the group, said the meth crisis that has enveloped the city is the cause of a lot of the issues the Bear Clan responds to.
“Meth is a horrible drug. It destroys peoples lives and its usage is increasing terribly high. I don’t know what the solution is to try to stop it. It’s bad. It’s bad stuff, bad for anyone.”
Fellow volunteer Craig Calancia has been with the Bear Clan for about six months, and said he got involved because he works with youth in his day job, and wanted to make a difference in the communities a lot of his clients come from.
“The amount of needles that you find on a regular basis, along with the other things you can find – weapons, drugs, different things that can be so harmful to so many people, that are just lying there on the ground,” he said.
“Anybody can just grab, pick up, and it can be so dangerous to anybody.
“I can’t see communities without (the Bear Clan) anymore. I’m incredibly proud to tell everybody that I meet that I volunteer with the Bear Clan.”