We Spent The Night On Patrol With The Bear Clan
Amber and I met at the Bear Den, the headquarters for the Bear Clan on Selkirk Avenue, early on a Friday evening. A woman met us at the door, asked if we’d volunteered with the group before and when we told her we had not, she welcomed us in.
Inside we watched volunteers, some who have been with the group since the beginning, welcome each other for another shift. It was very apparent that these members treat each other like family. A Bluetooth speaker played music as one woman braided another’s hair getting ready for shift, a few of the other members gently teased each other before suiting up in safety vests to spend the evening together. The Bear Clan operates Wednesday to Sunday and runs two shifts every evening. The first, 6pm to 9pm, the second, 10pm to midnight. No matter the weather, these volunteers show up every night.
Amber and I were led to the basement of the Den where we were shown how to pack a backpack for the night. Each member of a patrol wears a backpack filled with numerous items ranging from bottles of water, fresh fruit, granola bars, feminine hygiene products, a first aid kit and a container to hold any found needles (or sharps as they are called).
As we finished packing our bag, James Favel, executive director of the Bear Clan pulled up to the Bear Den, the box of his truck full of donations of latex gloves, fruit pouches, and granola bars. Volunteers grabbed boxes and hauled them downstairs to be sorted later. It was then that we learned the Bear Clan has taken on a new role in the community, offering food to anyone in need. The Den is open 7 days a week beginning at 1:30 pm, offering assistance with obtaining groceries and clothing. Their supplies are not large, everything fits in a shelving unit against a back wall.
As 6pm neared we gathered outside, (about 20 of us) to sort ourselves into groups of at least five. Each patrol is led by a female, equipped with a radio, to stay in contact with the other groups for the evening. Each group also appoints someone to take notes during patrol to keep track of the number of sharps picked up, any suspicious characters the group comes into contact with or on this night, to document a wellness check the patrol does on an individual who approached the Bear Clan the night before, distressed. All info is taken to the Den and recorded at the end of the evening.
Walking with the Bear Clan was eye opening for so many reasons.
*As the patrols began to leave the Den, vehicles driving by showed their appreciation for the group by honking and waving. We watched this happen all evening (including police cruisers on duty, and transit buses). It is very clear to us how important and how respected this group is in the community.
*Children recognize the Bear Clan by their safety vests and logo on their shirts. They regularly waved to the patrols from the windows of their homes or came running toward the group looking for a treat, most times asking the patrol for fresh fruit. A boy, about 7 years old responded “we’re the luckiest kids ever!” after he and his younger sister received a piece of fruit, a lollipop and fruit pouch from the patrol.
*Not long after leaving the kids, the patrol comes across it’s first sharp of the evening, a needle lying in the grass. If you’re new to patrol, finding your first needle is a big deal. Patrols walk, heads down scanning the area, and after finding a sharp, call for the member of the group wearing gloves to pick the needle up and deposit it into a yellow plastic sharps container. The needle is recorded on a note pad and the group continues on. The patrol told us the week before, 87 sharps were found in one area on one shift, a big haul for the evening. They also told us the number of sharps found for the previous three weeks was close to 5000.
*The patrol came across a man, sitting alone on a curb with a massive bandaged knife wound to his forearm. He told us how he had traveled home for his Aunt’s funeral and when he came back to Winnipeg, his girlfriend was gone, when he located her, the man she was with stabbed him. He told us he didn’t feel like living any longer. The patrol huddled around him with words of encouragement and offered him first aid. When he assured the group he didn’t need the aid, the patrol repeatedly informed him of a clinic a few blocks down the street that would be open in the morning to change his bandages.
*Each member of the patrol has a different reason for joining the Bear Clan. Some have lived their whole lives in the North End and joined to make their community safer, some who live in other parts of the city, joined the Bear Clan after seeing news stories about the group. We too decided to walk with the Bear Clan after reading so much about them. We were curious and wanted to know how we could help.
As we left the Den after our patrol shift was over, we were asked if we would be back to walk with the Bear Clan again. We not only agreed that we would be back, but Amber and I have decided to team up with our friends at Kiehl’s Polo Park for a private shop event this Thursday. It’s a night of giveaways and discounts and the only thing we ask of you is to bring a box of feminine hygiene products that we can pass along to the Bear Clan to replenish their supplies. If you’re interested in joining us, DM on Instagram to reserve your spot.