A turbulent debate comes to a resolution with some smiles, as Bear Clan Founder James Favel comes back to Kenora.
"This is the first fully-funded program running 24/7," he said, after this morning's announcement of $1.2 million to fund a 24/7 patrol in the city.
"We're the parent-organization in Winnipeg, and we're still cobbling together our funding a little at a time, so this is really remarkable that the program and the community is getting this kind of support," he noted.
Provincial cabinet minister and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford was joined by an impressive list of community leaders for the announcement. The list included Treaty 3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh, Kenora Chiefs Advisory chair Chief Lorraine Cobiness, Henry Wall of the district services board, Kenora Mayor Dan Reynard and OPP detachment commander Jeff Duggan.
"It became increasingly clear that the province should, if it could, help the city and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory and make this a program that mattered full-time," said Rickford.
Late yesterday, the Kenora Chiefs Advisory announced the Bear Clan would return on a part-time basis, with patrols on weekends. However, by this morning, the announcement had been expanded to run 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
"It certainly was certainly impressed on me that there was a willingness to open a Kenora chapter of Bear Clan to provide a more culturally-appropriate group that's done outstanding work in Winnipeg," Rickford added.
The Bear Clan fills a gap left by the end of the Street Patrol last year, when funds were used to help start the downtown shelter. Volunteers with the Bear Clan had previously helped provide an evening patrol on a part-time basis four years ago, after the search for Delaine Copenace.
However, the number of volunteers dwindled over time, putting an end to the program. Funding provided today will allow for patrol members to be paid for their work, in an effort to provide a consistent and effective service.
The need for some kind of a response again this summer was pushed by assaults and encampments at the city's harbourfront.
The Bear Clan has more than 2,000 volunteers in Winnipeg -- and 60 chapters across Canada -- who help keep the streets safe.
The addition of the street patrol should help alleviate the calls for service for officers with the local OPP detachment, who have had the additional burden of trying to provide enforcement during a pandemic, when the court system is effectively closed and inmates are actually being released from the district jail, in an effort to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 within the institution.
The added impact of the coronavirus on the homeless and vulnerable population wasn't lost on the executive director for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Raj Dhir, who recognized there were fewer services available for those in need, as staff work from home and agencies closed their doors. In a letter to city council, Dhir encouraged all levels of government -- including First Nation leaders -- to work together with city councillors, in an effort to find solutions to long-standing problems.
The turbulent week was set in motion by a proposed loitering bylaw, which was opposed by First Nation leaders, as well as the human rights commission.
Leaders agreed the announcement will also help future talks, as they deal with health care reforms under the new All Nations Health Team, which includes the construction of a new district hospital. The partners are also looking at housing, along with supports for mental health and addictions, which would be the fulfillment of the Housing First strategy inspired by Streets to Homes in Toronto more than a decade ago.
In his comments, Wall said the community's new remand centre should open this fall. The construction of treatment beds near the Evergreen Rink are being delayed by the pandemic. The location of new units for seniors is expected to be announced within days.
Wall thanked the city for helping to ease zoning restrictions, which made it more difficult to move ahead with new units.