Manitoba·Urban Myths

West Broadway resident hopes Bear Clan will help clean up drug paraphernalia, 'take back our neighbourhood'

The Bear Clan citizen patrol group is coming to West Broadway, and one of the people helping lead the group's entry into the Winnipeg neighbourhood says she wants to rid the area of used drug paraphernalia.

Angela Klassen is fed up with finding used needles, empty baggies in public places in Winnipeg neighbourhood

Angela Klassen will help lead the West Broadway chapter of the Bear Clan Patrol. (Robin Summerfield/CBC)

The Bear Clan citizen patrol group is coming to West Broadway, and one of the people helping lead the group's entry into the Winnipeg neighbourhood says she wants to rid the area of used needles and other drug paraphernalia.

"We're finding a lot of drug paraphernalia around the neighbourhood, in our parks where our kids play. And it's very sad. On any given day I could probably pick up 20 to 30 [needles]," said Angela Klassen.

The long-time resident of the inner-city neighbourhood and grandmother of nine used to be an addict herself, but she says she notices a difference in how some of the younger drug users in West Broadway behave.

"It was something I did in the privacy of my home. I didn't ever ever do it out on the street and always disposed of things properly," she said.

Klassen says she now sees a lot of young people in the neighbourhood using crystal meth.

"You can just tell by their behaviour. They get very loud, very obnoxious, they're rude, they become belligerent at times."

West Broadway will be the latest community in Manitoba to have the volunteer group patrolling its streets. Bear Clan patrols already exist in several communities, including Winnipeg's North End neighbourhood, Selkirk, Regina, and Kenora, Ont.

The West Broadway patrol is expected to begin later this month.

'It feels unsafe'

By bringing the Bear Clan Patrol to the neighbourhood, Klassen hopes to clean up the parks and playgrounds and make public spaces safer for residents, particularly the elderly and kids.

"Right now it feels unsafe, and a lot of parents feel that way, I'm sure. I, as a grandmother, feel that way."

The Winnipeg Police Service has blamed soaring crystal meth use for fuelling much of the city's crime. In January, police seized the equivalent of nearly half of the meth they confiscated during all of 2017.

Last month, the Manitoba government invited representatives from agencies that deal with street-involved people to collaborate on a plan to tackle the meth problem.

Drug paraphernalia is often found on sidewalks and other public places in the West Broadway neighbourhood, Klassen says. (Robin Summerfiled/CBC)

When Klassen walks through her neighbourhood, she often brings an empty bleach container, pop bottle, or a sharps container provided by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The sharps container can hold around 150 needles, and Klassen says she already filled one.

The problem of used needles is not unique to West Broadway — Bear Clan Patrol members in other neighbourhoods have also reported seeing an alarming number of them on the ground.

Picking them up can be dangerous. Bear Clan founder James Favel was forced to go to the hospital after he accidently pricked himself while trying to clean up needles in a back lane between Main Street and Austin Street in December.

Despite her concerns about drug use in West Broadway, Klassen says  she's optimistic her group can make a difference.

"There's a lot of really good people here and I know once things get going, we'll get our people out and we'll clean up our neighbourhood and take back our neighbourhood."

She wants to see drug users take better care of their supplies.

"There's a pharmacy right here around the corner where they could go dispose [of] their needles. There's all kinds of needle boxes in the neighbourhood that have been put up that they can put their dirty needles in."

The death of a friend from a drug-induced heart attack 20 years ago pushed Klassen to stop taking drugs. She hopes other people she sees in her neighbourhood find a way to get clean.

"I hope that they find their happiness and their peace and that they decide to stop or change their ways. But it's entirely up to them."

More from CBC Manitoba's West Broadway 'Urban Myths' series:

Urban Myths is a CBC series that explores Manitoba communities and their sometimes surprising stories.