The co-founder of a Regina community group says regular weekend foot patrols have made a difference in the North Central neighbourhood.
Since June, White Pony Lodge co-founder Shawna Oochoo has led over 90 volunteers on patrols on Friday and Saturday nights.
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“I think it’s about rebuilding our community’s pride,” she said.
On Friday night, a Global News crew followed a group of seven volunteers as they patrolled a route covering 5th Avenue, Angus Street and Rae Street in the heart of North Central.
The evening started with a briefing from Oochoo on safety and procedures, followed by an optional smudge ceremony to bless the patrol.
The volunteers then geared up —; armed with bright vests, walkie-talkies, plus tongs and buckets for disposing of hazardous materials.
Once on patrol, the group splits into two crews to cover both sides of the street. Immediately, team leaders on both sides called the patrol to a stop to collect syringes and other paraphernalia that was littering the sidewalks and adjacent lawns.
“A lot of needles and stuff like that. Paraphernalia, weapons, that’s kind of usually what our findings are on a patrol,” Oochoo said.
In late August, the patrol drew attention to an abandoned building on Angus Street where they found “needles all over the place”.
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Upon returning to that property, the group was pleased to find less dangerous material than before.
On top of clearing the streets of potentially dangerous materials, Oochoo believes the weekend patrols are building positive relationships within the community.
Jan Morier is a North Central resident who regularly participates in the patrols. Just months ago, she admitted she was afraid to leave the house at night.
Since volunteering with the group, Morier said she has seen a new side of the neighbourhood.
“It has taken a very short time to build up the confidence in this movement and to feel good about walking beside your neighbours in taking back our streets,” Morier said.
Late into the Friday night patrol, a resident named Lloyd called the volunteers over to his property, asking for help to clear the neighbouring property of syringes and other paraphernalia. Oochoo and her crew happily obliged.
“It’s a good thing these guys come along and they pick [the syringes] up and it’s dealt with,” Lloyd said.
Global's Blake Lough joined seven volunteers on a Friday night North Central patrol. Global News
Global's Blake Lough joined seven volunteers on a Friday night North Central patrol.
After sweeping an empty lot for needles and weapons, volunteers said it was a quiet patrol for a Friday night. The group succeeded in disposing dozens of syringes and had safely collected a small weapon.
But volunteers also succeeded in meeting a handful of new, curious residents —; people who, like Oochoo, want to keep their community safe.
“When we’re out on patrol, we’re not just patrolling the streets. We’re engaging the community, we’re building rapport, we’re building relationships, [and] we’re helping repair relationships too,” Oochoo said.
“There are a lot of labels and a lot of ideas about what North Central is. But when you’re actually here, it’s a completely different story.”