Bear Clan looking for support to keep program alive

Bear Clan looking for support to keep program alive
$200K for Bear Clan from province, but leader says funding worries not yet resolved
The Bear Clan Patrol reached out to Winnipeggers Thursday to ask for donations to help keep their program running, but the provincial government has stepped in with a large amount of funding.

Bear Clan spokesperson Rachel Hollis said the group didn’t have core funding confirmed for next year, which left them unsure about their ability to continue to operate. The province announced Thursday afternoon that almost $200,000 would be invested in the Bear Clan’s community crime prevention efforts.

"Historically, the federal government hasn’t always played a strong role in terms of supporting programs and services in urban settings, off reserve. This is an area that we are continually hearing about, and are looking for ways that we can provide more support."

“We understand how important the Bear Clan Patrol is to our community,” said justice minister Cliff Cullen.

“By promoting safety, offering support and providing assistance, the group helps reduce crime and keep our streets safe.”

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More than $126,000 in funding will come from Manitoba Justice through the Proceeds of Crime Fund, and will be used toward infrastructure and safety improvements.

The funding will also help the Winnipeg Police Service partner with the group and share information that will result in increased awareness of community situations.

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“The Bear Clan is credited with increasing the safety and well-being of people in the community through their visible presence, provision of basic food and shelter necessities, and positive contacts and referrals of individuals,” said Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth.

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An additional $70,000 will come from the Municipal Relations Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, in support of a system to collect and distribute food donations to vulnerable people.

Bear Clan co-founder James Favel argued that small groups need consistent funding to keep the lights on. Though Ottawa had not extended a second request for proposals, Favel said it ought to do so for programs that didnt secure multi-year funds.

Prior to the province’s announcement, a Go Fund Me Page was created to help with the 375-person volunteer group. They had raised over $4,000 in just over a week, with a goal of raising a total of $25,000.

The Bear Clan is an unarmed group of volunteers who patrol the North End several evenings a week. Highly visible in fluorescent vests, they offer practical support to homeless people, sex workers and people struggling with addictions.

“Funding is essential at this stage in the game,” said Bear Clan executive director James Favel.

“We have 1,400 Winnipeg-based volunteers and this money from the Proceeds of Crime Fund will provide us with the much-needed tools we need to do what we do.”

The huge demand for UPIP, and the uncertainty caused by freezing that funding, highlights how Ottawa is grappling to provide funding and services to Indigenous people as they increasingly migrate to cities like Winnipeg.

According to their website, The Bear Clan says their group “is a community based solution to crime prevention, providing a sense of safety, solidarity and belonging to both its members and to the communities they serve.”

The executive director of Winnipeg's Bear Clan Patrol says nearly $200,000 in funding from the provincial government announced Thursday will help — but uncertainty over federal funding is still a concern for the citizen patrol group.

Last fiscal year, the federal Liberals gave Bear Clan $100,000 through the Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples (UPIP) fund, which Ottawa has effectively frozen after an overwhelming number of applications.

"When we started we were just 12 people sitting around a boardroom table on Selkirk Avenue, and we really had no overhead except for the sky above us when we're walking," said Bear Clan co-founder James Favel.

UPIP had allocated multi-year funding to major groups like Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ Eagle Urban Transition Centre, but gave smaller groups a one-time allocation.

Since then, the group has grown to patrolling in several neighbourhoods with approximately 1,400 volunteers.

ISC may turn groups to existing, untapped federal funding programs in other departments. Philpott said her staff might also liaise with the provinces and foundations about what funding they can put up.

"We have real administrative needs now, where we didn't before. It's not easy keeping track of 1,400 volunteers and making sure we have equipment to use," he said. 

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSJames Favel co-founded the Bear Clan, which was in danger of laying off staff after uncertainty arose surrounding federal funding of the neighbourhood program.

While Favel says the provincial funding is good news, there has been some confusion about a possible $100,000 federal grant from Indigenous Services Canada — the same grant the Bear Clan received last year through the Urban Program for Indigenous Peoples.

But the department is currently developing a new approach to funding on how to best meet the needs of urban Indigenous people and is not accepting any new proposals for the 2018-19 year, said a statement from Indigenous Services.

"Our government recognizes the important work that the Bear Clan does in supporting Indigenous peoples living in cities and the unique realities they face," said a statement from Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott.

"Through changes to the Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples program at Indigenous Services Canada, we are working with partners on long-term funding solutions to help support organizations like the Bear Clan."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the province is stepping up, in part, because of Ottawa's withdrawal.

The Bear Clan has become an important fixture within the community, patrolling into the late hours of the night and trying to help keep the streets free of drugs and violence. 

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Right now, the city's transit advisory committee is considering an offer from the Bear Clan Patrol to help keep the city's buses safe, if they're able to ride free during their postings.

And the Bear Clan is about to open its new headquarters on Selkirk Avenue. Since 2015, the Bear Clan's base of operations has been Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre.

The space is already paid for, but Favel said he's still worried about funds to keep the building staffed.

"We're in danger of … not having any salary dollars to pay the people that are already being paid, and I don't know how we're going to function without it," said Favel.

Premier Brian Pallister told reporters the provincial funding was due, "in part," to the uncertainty over future federal contributions to the organization.

"Patrols won't stop just because we don't have funding," but not having the federal funding could mean the group will lose staff and will affect the way they do things, said Favel.

The provincial funding announced Thursday will help the Bear Clan get some much needed equipment, said Favel. 

More than $126,000 is coming from the Manitoba Justice Proceeds of Crime Fund, and has been earmarked for infrastructure and safety improvements, including a 15-passenger van, first aid kits, safety gear and bikes for patrol.

Pallister also encouraged Manitobans to support crowd-sourced funding that benefits the group. He said his family plans to make a contribution.

Another $70,000 from the Municipal Relations Neighbourhood Renewal Fund will help the Bear Clan develop a system to collect and distribute food donations to vulnerable people and partner agencies, says an announcement from the province.

The hope is the funding will also help create a partnership between the Bear Clan and the Winnipeg Police Service.

"The Winnipeg Police Service strongly supports proactive intervention in the effort to reduce the level of violent crime occurring in Winnipeg," Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said in a statement. 

"The Bear Clan is credited with increasing the safety and well-being of people in the community through their visible presence, provision of basic food and shelter necessities, and positive contacts and referrals of individuals," he added.

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