Bear Clan Patrol takes to streets in fight against Winnipeg's meth crisis
As the sun sets over the streets of Winnipeg, the Bear Clan Patrol gets to work.
Established four years ago after the murder of Indigenous teenager Tina Fontaine, the Bear Clan walks the streets of Winnipeg's north end to help keep the neighbourhood safe at night.
Adult use of methamphetamine is on the rise in Winnipeg and other parts of Manitoba, with a record-breaking 35 meth-related deaths reported in the province in 2017.
As the crisis gets worse, more and more communities are turning to the Bear Clan for help.
"We're seeing it getting worse and the demand is growing," Bear Clan leader James Favel told CTV News. "And the work is getting scarier to do."
Working in groups, the patrol searches the city's back alleys for drug paraphernalia and weapons hidden amongst piles of garbage.
They have no problem finding either hidden dangers on the same roads where children play.
So far this year, the patrol has found more than 35,000 thousand discarded needles an almost tenfold increase from the previous year.
Methamphetamine is a huge problem in the community one that not even the Bear Patrol is immune to, with Favel saying that the group lost two of their volunteers to drug overdoses this past summer.
At just $10 for a high that can last up to 13 hours, meth has quickly become the drug of choice on Winnipeg's streets, with adult meth use increasing by more than 100 per cent over the past four years.
The drug was also connected to one in three homicides in the city last year, according to police, and has been tied to the spiking crime rates particularly when it comes to aggravated assaults and robberies.
As the situation gets worse, the Bear Clan finds itself stretched thinner and thinner, despite its growing ranks.
The organization, which started with only 12 volunteers, now has more than 1,300 Winnipeg-based volunteers serving several of the city's neighbourhoods, and groups in more than 35 cities across the country are using the Bear Clan model in their own communities.
But the group lacks the resources to employ more than a handfull of staff full or part-time, making it difficult to retain the necessary human resources to organize and expand the patrol.
For many of the members that go out each night, money isn't the motivator it's to protect, to help, to make a difference.
One member lost her younger brother to the drug, overdosing shortly after he turned 18-years-old. She says that after the loss, the patrol became that much more important to her.
Another member is a recovering addict herself, looking to help Winnipeg's at-risk population because she knows what they're going through.
"As an addict we think we've burnt a lot of bridges where people are not going to trust us, we're useless to them," said Vanessa. "I just felt like I wanted to give up, but I know I can do more."
She said that the first time she went out on patrol, she felt sick picking up a used needle, but Bear Clan leaders encouraged her to continue, with the group becoming like a family that gives her the motivation she needs to keep moving forward.
For her, and so many others like her, the Bear Clan will continue to walk because there are so many more that still need their help.
With a report from CTV National News Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon