The Bear Clan Patrol is trying to bring a new sense of safety to the streets of Calgary by cleaning the streets of drug paraphernalia and helping out the homeless. However, this work wouldn’t be possible without the patrol’s donors, supporters and volunteers.
The organization, which started in November 2019, holds these patrols every Friday afternoon and evening, regardless of the weather.
Inspired by a group based in Manitoba with the same name, its members were also influenced by another group from Lethbridge called the Sage Clan Patrol who assisted in the Bear Clan Patrol’s first walks in Calgary.
Heather Black, one of the Calgary Bear Clan Patrol’s committee members, states that part of their goal is creating a bond of safety and friendship within the community and giving people in need the resources they need “to help them make that one step into changing their life.”
“When we go out for a patrol, we are looking for the ‘sharps,’ the needles, and at the same time, we’re meeting with those homeless and we’re providing gloves, warmth and food,” says Black.
Two organizers prepare the sage for the smudge before heading out for a patrol. Photo by Daniel Gonzalez
The Bear Clan Patrol does two different walks across the city. Each is led by two of the patrol’s six committee members. The first walk happens in the afternoon and is focused on the downtown core, while the second happens in the evening in Forest Lawn.
Their afternoon patrol, which runs from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., begins at the west side of the Calgary Public Library. From there, they go to Olympic Plaza and then to the riverfront near the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre.
After that, the patrol takes a two-hour break, resupplying and getting a quick meal before hitting the streets again. At 8:00 p.m, they will begin their second walk and continue until 11:00 p.m.
Before every patrol, the leaders go over safety precautions with their volunteers, providing orange safety vests and the necessities they hand out to those in need. They also perform a traditional smudging where they burn sage and ask their ancestors for protection.
Although the patrol does not directly intervene with substance abusers or criminal activities on the city streets, they do their best to ensure that everyone is in a safer space, regardless of their situation.
“We go over safety precautions — [such as] what not to do. We warn volunteers what they’re going to see on the street. We’re not out there to stop people from doing what they’re doing. We’re there to help them be able to provide that sense of safety that they need,” says Black.
Armed with naloxone kits, tongs, pick-up tools and biohazard containers, they search alleys, crevices, around buildings and even under bridges along the city’s riverfront.
Black says there are also many things that the Bear Clan Patrol can offer the homeless, from clothing and clean needle kits to condoms and toiletries.
“As we are going around and we see people, we stop them. We converse with them. We give them coffee. We give them food. If there’s anything else that they want, then we’re pretty well-equipped to help them out with any kind of warm gear,” Black explains.
All of those supplies have been donated by supporters. By giving to those in need, the Bear Clan Patrol’s members hope they can strengthen the connection they have with them.
Two men from Saskatchewan appreciate the backpacks filled with supplies given to the from the Bear Clan Patrol. Photo by Daniel Gonzalez
One encounter Black will never forget occurred during the coldest week in January where the patrol met a young man in need of their aid.
“One of the gentlemen that we were looking after at the Marlborough C-train line was kind of distant and he wasn’t warming up to us. But I branched off and I went to get him hot chocolate and stuff. He said he was hungry, so he voiced that,” she says.
Giving the assistance this man needed that evening gave Black a lasting impression of the homeless in Calgary and that sometimes, the patrol cannot provide all the help they need.
“He had a broken arm and he didn’t want to get medical attention. So, it broke my heart. We, not only myself but everybody that was on patrol, were able to look after and give him what he needed to be comfortable,” Black recalls.
With the support of donations from different organizations in Calgary, the Bear Clan Patrol can continue to assist people suffering with addictions and homelessness in the city.
“Calgary has been amazing and the whole Calgary community has come together, not just individuals, but companies and organizations, have come forward to help and support us in any way they can,” says Black.
The Bear Clan Patrol is continuing their Friday patrols and have plans of expanding their reach and launching more patrols. They hope to further their connection with the community.
“We walk with what we have, right? And we are here to make friends and build that relationship with everybody. Not only with those on the streets, but with all of the volunteers and people that have been part of our journey thus far.”
- By Daniel Gonzalez