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Coronavirus pandemic not slowing tide of inner-city drug use, desperation: Winnipeg Bear Clan

James Favel, Executive Director of Bear Clan Patrol.
James Favel, Executive Director of Bear Clan Patrol. Amber McGuckin/Global News

The world may have changed around it, but for Winnipeg’s Bear Clan Patrol, it’s business as usual, even during a pandemic.

Bear Clan executive director James Favel told 680 CJOB the coronavirus crisis hasn’t changed the landscape of poverty and crime his community group deals with on a daily basis.

If anything, it’s made things even more difficult for people who were already struggling. In addition to providing meals and food hampers for people in need six days a week, Bear Clan volunteers have picked up an unprecedented number of used syringes on the streets in 2020.

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“So far in the first quarter, we picked up over 80,000 needles this year,” said Favel.

“Last year, we picked up 145,000 used syringes all year long… so we’re projecting 320,000 if things stay the same.

“I haven’t seen any appreciable changes for the better. Actually, what we’re seeing is a worsening of circumstances for our community members.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg’s Bear Clan feeling COVID-19 stress but still working for community

Favel said many people in the inner-city areas the Bear Clan patrols were already living in crisis mode before the pandemic began, and adding a lack of resources and accessibility to essential services on top of that has created a desperate situation.

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“It’s really had a double and triple impact in our community and sadly it’s not for the better,” he said.

“One of my primary concerns right now is the desperation that exists in the community is really scary.

“We’ve got homeless people in our community that don’t have a place to be right now. All the usual places for them to hang out are closed.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Police federation concerned about early release for some Manitoba inmates

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Winnipeg Police Association president Moe Sabourin said there may seem to be a perception that there’s less crime out there due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but violent crime and property crime is continuing to happen in the city.

Sabourin said police have been given the ability to exercise more discretion for minor offences — power to release people from the scene to prevent contact with as many people as possible — but they’re still actively engaged in law enforcement and crime prevention.

Our officers are still seeing a lot of violent crimes… the homicides, the stabbings,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate, but I think once the pandemic starts to slow down, we’re going to see a big spike.

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“There’s going to be a lot of desperate people out there, and desperate people do desperate things.”

Bear Clan to begin delivering food hampers amid COVID-19 pandemic
Bear Clan to begin delivering food hampers amid COVID-19 pandemic