The Bear Clan is rolling out a new way to patrol city streets during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday volunteers with the community-watch group will do patrols on two-wheels through West Broadway, using a fleet of bicycles the organization picked up with the help of a provincial grant.
Brian Chrupalo, Bear Clan Patrol board chair, says the new rides will allow members to keep socially distancing during the COVID-10 outbreak while still keeping an eye on inner-city neighbourhoods.
“Because of trying to flatten the curve with COVID-19 we are having to use smaller patrols, and by being on bikes we’re able to go in a smaller group but still patrol larger areas,” he explained.
“We’d like to use them as much as we can — it’s a great opportunity to be out and about — and it’s also a great conversation piece when people see them riding around.”
The Bear Clan currently patrols in the North End, West End, Point Douglas and West Broadway neighbourhood, and recently added a patrol in the Elmwood neighbourhood too.
Chrupalo said the Indigenous-led neighbourhood watch group normally sees as many as 30 people taking part in patrols, but with restrictions due to COVID-19, patrols have shrunk down to five or less.
He said Winnipeggers can now expect to see groups of three or four volunteers on bike patrols throughout the city too.
The dozen or so new bikes were purchased last year after the Bear Clan was awarded a grant from the province’s criminal forfeiture fund.
Chrupalo said each bike is equipped with special equipment including first-aid kits, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and protective gear for picking up needles.
Picking up needles will be on the agenda for their run on the new bikes in West Broadway Thursday, said Chrupalo, as the group helps in the neighbourhood’s annual spring clean-up effort.
Used needles a growing concern
Chrupalo said the group hasn’t seen a drop in needles littering city streets during COVID-19, in fact, they’re seeing an increase with roughly 80,000 picked up city-wide since January.
The group has previously said they found 145,000 needles all year in 2019.
Last month James Favel, Bear Clan’s executive director, told 680 CJOB the pandemic hasn’t changed the landscape of poverty and crime his community group deals with on a daily basis either.
“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.”
Despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19 Chrupalo said the Bear Clan will continue to adapt in order to continue their work in the community.
“There’s less people on the streets but at the same time people are struggling on how to deal with this — this isn’t a normal everyday thing,” he said.
“The need for us in the community is still there, so we are out and about, we’re just changing how we’re doing business.
“We’re being flexible to try to help as many people as we can.”
The Bear Clan Patrol was originally created in 1992 as a volunteer safety group but, after several years, discontinued its patrols. Years later, the group returned to the Winnipeg streets in 2015.