VANCOUVER -- A small group of people living on the Downtown Eastside hopes an organized community patrol and outreach program will help make the neighbourhood safer and prevent some overdose deaths.

They call themselves Sweet Grass Clan and say their plan is modeled on a something similar in Winnipeg called the Bear Clan Patrol.

In just five years, that group has swelled its ranks to more than 1,000 volunteers who work in small teams patrolling the community, handing out food and warm clothing, and providing a visible street presence in some of the city’s roughest neighbourhoods.

“We have a high volume of people in need here on Main and Hastings,” said Marie Babisky, one of Sweet Grass Clan's founding members. “And we live down here and we want to help people as much as we can.”

It is a modest beginning for the group, which only has six volunteers at the moment, but they hope others will join them.

One thing they want to make very clear is that they are not a vigilante group, but instead see an opportunity to make the area safer simply by having more eyes and ears on the streets.

“As a community we can come together and maybe make it a safer place for everyone just by having a positive presence in the community,” said organizer Robby Poorman-Epp. “We’re not here to be another form of police, not at all. We’re here to help the community and let people know that this is a safe place.”

One of the first things Sweet Grass Clan plans to do is assemble and handout 2,000 COVID-19 kits for people living on the streets.

They will include masks, hand sanitizer, bottled water and a resource booklet outlining some of the other agencies offering support services in the DTES.

The group is seeking additional volunteers, along with donations that can be included in their COVID-19 kits.

Sweet Grass Clan operates out of the Aboriginal Front Door Society at 384 Main St.