Her shoes are sturdy but worn in; 500 hours spent patrolling the streets Angela Janeczko calls home is bound to soften even the most rugged soles.
For 20 years, Janeczko, 51, has lived in West Broadway, a diverse neighbourhood on the periphery of downtown Winnipeg that blends families, students, immigrants and young professionals from a wide cross-section of economic means.
Trendy cafés and bars exist opposite resource centres for the homeless, and stately homes neighbour low-income rental housing.
The vibrant community, like many others in the city, is well-acquainted with a variety of social issues. In 2019, more than 200 incidents of violent crime were recorded and the number of property offences has inched upward over the past year, Winnipeg Police Service statistics show.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — Manitoba estimates that more than 18,000 needles were distributed to drug users in the area over the last three years.
Janeczko has met those challenges at the grassroots level over the past two years, first as the female lead of the West Broadway Bear Clan Patrol, and now as one of its two co-ordinators.
"I saw the need in the community that was there and nobody was addressing the issue. I wanted action to be taken and it takes boots on the ground to get it done," she says during an interview in the office of social worker Travis Bighetty, another West Broadway Bear Clan co-ordinator.
"I had all kinds of time," she says.
"I wanted my grandchildren to feel safe when they’re in the neighbourhood, to make it safer and to make the community stronger."
In 2018, she was connected with the Bear Clan, when James Favel — the North End-based organization’s executive director — asked her to volunteer for a new chapter in West Broadway. She had been itching to play a bigger role in her neighbourhood when the offer came up, and didn’t hesitate to accept the volunteer position.
The hundreds of hours she’s already spent on the streets honour the memory of a friend who have been lost to violence; one, Delma Kennedy, was the victim of a 1994 stabbing. And she’s out there for her late husband, Brad Beauchemin, a fierce supporter of the patrol, who died of cancer in August.
Notably, Janeczko pounds the pavement to help people living with addiction and homelessness — two things she has experienced first-hand.
"I knew what it was like out on the streets and I wanted to help. That’s why I walk," she says.
The West Broadway Bear Clan Patrol is on the street every Friday and Saturday, and is just one of a dozen volunteer patrols in Winnipeg, participants motivated to improve their communities from the ground up and respond to safety issues and crime trends through neighbourhood-specific interventions.
A typical patrol night involves Bighetty arriving late and getting a scolding from Janeczko, the two joke.
Then they go about organizing volunteers and donations, deciding what areas will be covered, and which vulnerable community members they will touch base with.
But in what was an exceptionally violent year, many nights were not typical, requiring patrollers to be a resource for people dealing with grief and tragedy.
Among the city’s record 44 homicides in 2019, one hit particularly close to home for the patrol. On June 7 — less than a half-hour after Bighetty’s patrol passed by — Robert Christian Donaldson, 51, was fatally stabbed on Sherbrook Street at Sara Avenue. The group returned that weekend to smudge the corner where the random attack occurred.
Winnipeg’s scourge of violence has strengthened patrol members’ resolve and underlined the need for grassroots responses to social disparity.
The patrol is setting an example of community ownership, Bighetty says, explaining the feeling is one that sticks.
His connection to the Bear Clan stretches back more than 20 years to when he was a teen watching his older brother patrol the North End with the original Bear Clan.
Now 40, Bighetty says that early exposure defined who he is today.
"There are those incidents that happen and create a lot of fear, and it leads people into isolation," he says. "Through that isolation, fear builds up to where you’re alone. I believe it’s important for our community members to come together.
"On a cold night, if you see us walking, and you’re warm at home, at least you know there’s somebody out there," he continues.
"There are incidents that will happen, but it’s not going to change unless everyone becomes involved with it. Putting yourself into isolation because of fear is not a solution."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
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