What began as a fight to make his city safer and has morphed into a nationwide success story has almost left Bear Clan Patrol co-founder James Favel homeless.

“It’s tough financially,” Favel said. “They had sent somebody to my house with one of those notices that the inspectors branch wanted to come in and look at my house to get it ready for auction.”

Favel estimates he’s working 100 hours a week, but patrolling Winnipeg’s toughest streets and searching for the city’s missing is a commitment that comes with little to no pay. And Favel had run out of money to pay his property taxes.

“They were going to auction on Dec. 9 [and] I would have been rendered homeless,” Favel said.

He ended up borrowing the cash to cover the balance. And while he’s admittedly in debt and his pick-up truck is falling apart, Favel said going back to his career as a semi-truck driver is not in the cards.

Bear Clan grows nationwide

In March, he walked away from the trucking industry to head the Bear Clan full time. With the group’s busiest year behind him, he says he made the right decision.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “I was never fulfilled through trucking like I am with the work I do with the Bear Clan. I mean revenues are great but the smiles on the faces of the people that I meet on the street they mean a whole lot more.”

The grassroots group that re-launched in Favel’s North End backyard in July 2015 has grown to almost 400 members.

The model is now up and running in 18 communities between Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta and soon to be British Columbia.

It operates with little to no funding, relying on volunteers and donations from the public. They’ve even set up a Go Fund Me page.

Five nights a week, the group sets out to walk the streets of the North End, providing protection and security for the city’s vulnerable.

A group of volunteers with the Bear Clan Patrol in a previous search for a missing woman. (CBC)

Group members also organize search parties for missing people, hand out food and hygiene products and are equipped to save lives. Dozens of patrols recently received first-aid training and naloxone to respond to fentanyl overdoses. And this month, the Paramedics Associations gifted the group a portable defibrillator to take out on patrols.

The Bear Clan can also be found picking up discarded needles, engaging youth through “mock patrol” programs twice a week or collecting donations for families who’ve lost their homes to fire.

“We’re looking to expand beyond that yet,” Favel said, adding they’re looking at conducting daytime patrols.

Favel said the growth this year has been ‘huge’.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “To me, it shows we’re on the right track and it shows to me that the community, and more communities, this is what they really wanted. We’re answering a lot of calls now for these kinds of services and it’s great.”

‘I see change in this city’: Favel

The Indigenous-led group is also tackling cultural divides.

“I see change in this city,” Favel said. “The way that people came together for some of these searches that we’ve done was really remarkable.”

Favel said at the peak of a search for one missing teen this year, more than 200,000 people were visiting their Facebook page for updates daily.

“Winnipeg has the largest urban indigenous population in North America …  between 60,000 and 80,000 people and to be reaching 210,000 people means we were reaching across those cultural divides. And talking about reconciliation? That’s what that looks like to me.”

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