Winnipeg Bear Clan moving to bigger den in new year

The original Bear Clan will be moving to a bigger, better den as the volunteer patrol group prepares to open a second location in Winnipeg, its executive director says.

Inner-city patrol group to open city's 2nd location on Selkirk Avenue in January

James Favel, who founded the Bear Clan Patrol Inc., says the volunteer group's current location is bursting at the seams trying to meet community needs. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The original Bear Clan will be moving to a bigger, better den as the safety patrol group prepares to open a second location in Winnipeg this winter, its executive director says.

Bear Clan Patrol Inc., a volunteer-driven group based in the inner city, recently moved into its home at 584 Selkirk Avenue — and is expanding to a new-and-improved location just down the block.

"We were growing faster than we were able. We're getting so many donations now that we didn't have room to house them all," James Favel, executive director of Bear Clan, said.

To make room for all the donations, helpers and community members in need, Favel said the group will be taking over a larger, more accommodating space in the building at 563 Selkirk Avenue, by January 2020.

The older, smaller space could only fit six people, he said. According to Favel, it had limited electricity, lacked a proper heating system and couldn't contain all the food donations.

"And it's problematic. We have people lined up outside for hours sometimes. It's going to get cold. I don't want to have people lined up for two hours outside waiting. So this will help with that," he said.

Favel says the volunteer patrol group will be moving into a new den at 563 Selkirk Avenue. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The plan is to move food distribution from their first building in Winnipeg to the new location, which will house the tables, fridges and freezers required for the food security program on one side of the building and office space for administration on the other side.

The old spot will remain the volunteer patrol base, for now.

"We're out there trying to be a positive resource for community members. again, a consistent presence, something they can count on, something they can rely on," Favel said. 

"It's very satisfying to know that so many good people are out there taking on the responsibility of doing this work."

Growing pains

The patrol group was created to keep the peace and assist residents in inner-city communities in Winnipeg in the wake of Tina Fontaine's 2014 death.

What began with a dozen volunteers and a $900 budget in 2014 has grown into 1,600 volunteers in Winnipeg and a presence in 56 communities across Canada.

"The people in our community already have it tough enough. We don't need punitive measures," Favel said. "We don't need to be under-served and over-policed."

He said he's starting to see the shift he's been looking for made possible with resources and funding from the province, non-profits and community organizations.

The Bear Clan Patrol Inc. will be taking over its new location in January 2020. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

For example, the existing Selkirk Avenue food security program serves an average of 117 people per day, although some days that number is much higher, according to researchers. When the new location opens, food distribution will be moved there.

A report commissioned by the Bear Clan and released recently by the University of Manitoba found the food security program is meeting a need in the nearby Point Douglas neighbourhood, and significantly improving people's access to fresh foods.

"This is why we've been fighting for so long," Favel said.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg and Rachel Bergen