With headlines about stabbings, rocks being thrown at cars on the highway and arsons making local and national news, some residents of Thompson are taking it upon themselves to help make the city safer by patrolling the streets, doing kind deeds and organizing family-friendly events in hopes of dissuading would-be criminals from generating more calls to police.
Holly Gossfeld and Tracey Clemons, both born and raised in Thompson, are two members of the North of 55 Patrol/Safe Rides Facebook group, which has over 1,000 members.
“We’re parents,” says Gossfeld. “We just want the town to be safer.”
“I just want our town to be positive again,” said Clemons, who admits that she was no angel growing up but that the times and Thompson seem to have changed. “I just want my kids to grow up in a safe place like I did. I wasn’t doing things that are being done now but I was always home at a decent hour.”
Seventeen-year-old Aaron Brown has also attended a couple of meetings of members of North of 55 Patrol/Safe Rides. A resident of Thompson for about 10 years since moving here from Leaf Rapids, Brown says he’s had personal experience of violence, having been beaten up a couple of times, but thinks that it is possible for good people to make a difference.
“It’s getting worse every year, more crime,” said Brown. “I realized that there’s some good people out there, that we can actually stop this if we keep on going.”
Gossfeld says she has been meeting with various people about her group’s efforts to make Thompson a safer place with more activities for children and youth, including Coun. Duncan Wong, the youth co-ordinator at Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre, Keewatin Tribal Council, Jermey Niderburger of Thompson Concerned Citizens and Stephanie Third-Vickers and other members of Peace and Prevention Community – Thompson, which started out with similar ideas of patrolling the streets last spring before transitioning into trying to organize free and affordable events for children and families in Thompson.
“I’m happy to see other people out and making plans,” said Third-Vickers, who donated North of 55 Patrol/Safe Rides some high-visibility vests to wear when they are out walking around, as well as passing on some useful contacts, since these groups and others share common goals.
“It would be nice to team up and make one big group with various leaders,” says Clemons, but joining their Facebook group isn’t enough to help them achieve their goals. “We need support from our community.”
“We need volunteers,” says Gossfeld, who would like to see things like big Brothers/Big Sisters in Thompson, as well as groups offering free sports equipment for informal baseball games at city parks or even organizing trips out to Paint Lake for local families and youth, who no longer have the option of going swimming in town since the Norplex Pool was shut down permanently in February. “Get out there, Thompson. Help us help you. Everybody in town will benefit from this.”
Third-Vickers said Peace and Prevention Community –Thompson knows all about what these other groups are going through, when the initial excitement wears off and you realize that it’s going to take a small group of people a lot of time and effort to convince other people to join them.
“I hope they don’t give up,” she said, adding the Peace and Prevention members are trying to grow their ranks by each inviting one or two new people to their next planning meeting on June 8 at 11 a.m. at McDonald’s.
Clemons says the fact that so much crime is happening this spring is a sign that the systems intended to help keep kids and adults out of trouble aren’t working as they should.
“Obviously something’s failing,” she said.
That echoes what Mayor Colleen Smook told the Nickel Belt News June 4 following an announcement of an $11 million renovation of the Thompson court office and meeting with Manitoba’s justice minister and department and RCMP officials.
“The majority of the kids in care in Thompson are from outlying communities so they’re not even used to Thompson,” she said. “They don’t know people in Thompson. They’re brought in here to the foster system and the juvenile system but they really have no connection to Thompson. It’s up to us to start looking after them better than we do. We have to hold the whole system accountable for the safety of children right up to the government social workers with the big caseloads and stuff. It has to be all recognized.”
Gossfeld says her group has tried to improve the community by picking up garbage and bringing water and food to people in the ER waiting room.
“I just want optimism and positivity,” she says. “Thompson could be so much better. We don’t like waking up to all these incidents.”