A new group of volunteers is reaching out to help some of Calgary’s most vulnerable.
The Calgary chapter of the indigenous-led Bear Clan Patrol, which started up in mid-November, patrols areas where many wouldn’t dare to go after sundown.
Volunteer Gitz Crazyboy said the group helps ensure the protection of people in the community.
“That means everybody, but also our friends and family that are on the streets right now,” Crazyboy explained.
The group meets every Friday, first making its way through parts of the city’s downtown core, and then through the southeast community of Forest Lawn.
“Sometimes people are unresponsive, and we have a detailed plan for that,” Crazyboy explained. “Sometimes they need some help, food, or connections to programs and services — and that’s what we do.”
The volunteers also keep their eyes open for drug paraphernalia and help clean up needles.
“The first night that we did this we found 75 needles,” Crazyboy said. “That’s not all of downtown. That’s a six or seven-block radius.”
The Bear Clan Patrol first started in Winnipeg in the early 90s and relaunched in 2015 following the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.
The group came into the national spotlight in 2019 after Bear Clan Patrol volunteers headed to northern Manitoba to help in the search for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod. At the time, the pair was wanted in connection with a killing spree in B.C. and had a Canada-wide warrant out for their arrest.
While some might wonder why people would volunteer for this kind of work, in sometimes pitch black, subzero temperatures, Crazyboy points to his days patrolling with the Winnipeg chapter and the Bear Clan Patrol’s co-founder James Favel.
“With James, there was just something about being around that man that inspired you to do good and carry that good wherever you went,” Crazyboy said. “I’m trying to create that same thing that he’s doing out there, here.”
For volunteer Heather Black, the reason is also a personal one.
“I have relatives and family members where if they’d seen more of a family presence out in the community, I believe it would have made a difference,” Black said.
Currently, there are as many as 15 volunteers that will head out with care packages in hand.
“We’ve made some good friendships so far, just being able to give them some warm gloves or socks,” Black said.
“It shows that we really care and that we want to be there for them.”
The Calgary chapter is now looking at expanding and becoming a non-profit organization in 2020.
“We’re looking forward to the growth and being out in the community more,” Black said.
The goal for the patrol is to ultimately try to humanize those trapped in the cycle of trauma and addiction.
“They’re on the streets, and whatever brought them there – brought them there,” Crazyboy said.
“Our hope and dream is that if they choose to, they can leave.”