Since June of 2017, people wearing bright-colored vests with backpacks full of supplies have been seen patrolling the streets of Brandon in an effort to help visitors and fellow citizens feel more comfortable in the city.
Brandon’s Bear Clan, which was formed last year due to safety concerns surrounding the city’s downtown core, is part of a wider organization that was established in Winnipeg and has branched to other parts of Manitoba. A year after its formation, the local initiative is an organization that many Westman residents feel has been a benefit to Brandon.
“We’re here to provide support for all members of our community. It’s not just about the safe walks or even the patrolling here in the city. We need to provide tools for our community’s marginalized people, the people who often don’t get paid attention to in the community,” said Brandon Bear Clan head volunteer Lisa Ramsey. “They need to know that they are seen, and that they are cared for, which is why Bear Clan operates the way that we do; so we can provide support to people in the community in many different ways.”
Through the past 13 months of operation, about 160 area residents have volunteered their time to going on patrol, attending events, or putting together care packages for those in need. On a patrol night, which lasts from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., 15 volunteers walk the streets together while another volunteer follows in a vehicle, often carrying supplies that are handed out to community members.
Through the summer, the Bear Clan patrols Thursday and Friday nights throughout the downtown core area. As they walk, volunteers hand out items such as water, sunscreen, and different care packages filled with toiletries. In the colder months, members provide gloves and hats for those in need.
“It’s more than just providing safe spaces for people here in Brandon. We need to address our homeless population, the meth crisis going on in the city, and have our volunteers and our community members really look out for those struggling with mental and physical health issues.” – Lisa Ramsey
The organization also provides education and resources that downtown core residents can access, such as safe needle disposal, safe-sex supplies and safe-walks to those requesting it.
The Bear Clan’s services are not strictly allocated to the downtown area, though. The organization will go where they are invited within the community. In fact, the group has already been invited to many different neighborhoods. Community members who see the Bear Clan patrolling the streets will often come up to the volunteers and ask about the organization and for ways they can get involved.
Ramsey encourages community members to check out their social media pages for more information.
One of the simpler ways Brandon residents can get involved is by donating items for care packages that patrol members hand out. This may include water, sunscreen, shampoo, soaps – anything that would benefit people who struggle to purchase these things for themselves.
The Bear Clan also advises that if residents want to get involved on Patrol nights, walkers arrive at the Brandon Aboriginal Youth Activity Centre at 602 Rosser Ave. at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays to fill out the appropriate paperwork.
“We need people with open hearts and friendly smiles; those people who want to help (others). There is a need for people who recognize the challenges that people in our community face,” said Ramsey.
“It’s more than just providing safe spaces for people here in Brandon. We need to address our homeless population, the meth crisis going on in the city, and have our volunteers and our community members really look out for those struggling with mental and physical health issues.”
More information about the Brandon Bear Clan can be found online through Facebook and Twitter. To volunteer or donate, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (204) 729-0788.