The person the Moose Jaw couple was talking with said he’d seen their work with the homeless and disadvantaged on the streets of Saskatchewan and wanted to post their story on his board while also recommending they start up a GoFundMe, since he felt their project could gain serious traction.
“So we put up a goal of $5,000, we didn’t think it would happen and that was just shooting for the stars, even just with that, it would go so far and we could help so many people,” Nault said. “We made it on Friday, he posted it on Saturday, and by Saturday night we were at $60,000.”
Eric, as it turns out, was none other than Eric Damier, a well-known Los Angeles-based Instagram influencer behind EarthPix and a handful of other channels boasting close to 30,000,000 followers. And once the post showed up on his wall, well, by the time Hennink and Nault shut the GoFundMe down earlier this week, they’d amassed $83,000 in only six days.
That, right there, says all you need to know about the resonance the ‘Help Someone’ Movement has built in the short time of its existence.
Hennink is well known in Moose Jaw: the 2020 Canadian Paramedic of the Year, he’s also a skilled musician and has been a longtime advocate for mental health in the community.
And for good reason -- Hennink has been open about his struggles with PTSD and the alcoholism it created, a battle that saw him enter rehab three times.
It was through his own struggles that Hennink began to wonder about the homeless and needy living on the streets in Saskatchewan, for a simple and stark reason.
“I knew if I didn’t do something, if I didn’t try to hear other stories and help if I could, I was going to relapse,” he explained. “So I was thinking I need to do this myself and do something positive or I’ll be in the same position as them.”
That led Hennink and fiancé Nault to, well, simply start listening.
They’d buy a coffee and approach those on the street and just hear what they had to say.
“We wanted to hear people’s actual stories, people who live on the street that were stuck in addiction and if they weren’t, what’s going on, why they can’t get out of that scenario,” Nault said. “That’s what’s happening in the (GoFundMe) pictures, we’re just sitting there listening. And then we usually bring food or a meal, and a few times we’ve gone and got clothing. But that’s all it is, we’re just listening and helping if we can.”
It all led to the duo deciding to launch the ‘Help Someone’ Movement to further the reach of those incredible tales, at first through their We are Warriors magazine and now through regular video posts of their conversations across social media.
They eventually decided to take it to the extreme -- a 365-day North American tour telling the stories of the disadvantaged on the streets of U.S. and Canada.
“We sold our houses, our possessions, we decided ‘let’s just take a risk’,” Hennink said. “So we bought a camper and we literally climbed into it and our plan was to travel across Canada and the United States doing good deeds, just for a year.”
The original plan was to head across the border at the end of June, but with the ongoing pandemic, that fell through. It was at that point the duo began to worry if it was all for naught and things were about to fall apart.
“But when you listen to someone on the streets, you realize you don’t have it so bad,” Nault said. “Then we saw this need and thought there was more we can do before we leave (the country).”
They first began approaching homeless and struggling folks on the streets of Saskatoon, asking if they could hear their stories and take video of them telling their tale.
The first of those, a heartfelt conversation with Kayla and Tyson at an RV park, was posted across Hennink’s social media on June 2.
There have since been 15 stories posted, each of them heart-wrenching tales of addiction, sorrow and grief.
“Some of the stories are just so powerful, it shows that these people have a story and there’s a reason why they’re on the street and a lot of it is very painful to hear,” Hennink said. “We’re were crying so many times over some of these stories, and they’re willing to open up about it, which is just amazing.”
One thing that’s surprised Nault was just how open their subjects are: not only are they willing to talk, they’re more than happy to offer advice on avoiding the situation they’re in.
“We always ask if someone else is struggling or in need right now, what would they do? And they’re really blatantly honest, which we really appreciate,” Nault said.
“A lot of people in downtown Saskatoon are addicted to meth, and they all say ‘don’t touch it, once you touch it, you can’t go back, it’s a really hard road and you’ll lose everything’. They’re very open, it’s not a matter of ‘I didn’t do this, it’s not my fault’, it’s very real and raw and truthful. It’s ‘I did this, I can’t go home because I’m a wreck, so don’t touch this’. It’s really incredible.”
One conversation steered toward how easy meth was to find in Saskatoon, and the person said not only was it easy, he bent over a picked a piece of the vicious drug off the ground, right then and there. Asked if there was a way out for him, he said he could become a drug dealer… but didn’t want to be a part of anything that would put people through what he had been through.
“You hear stuff like that and you realize these people know how bad their situation is and sometimes just have no way of getting help,” Hennink said. “That’s why we’re so happy to be able to do what we’re doing.”
With the financial wherewithal to now offer even more help than ever, Hennink and Nault have begun to do just that.
Instead of just handing over a coffee and maybe a bit of food if they can afford it, the last few days have seen the duo making life-changing purchases and donations for those they talk to.
“The ability we have now compared to what we had even a week ago is worlds different,” Nault said. “A week ago we were only able to buy someone coffee, then yesterday we went out and bought someone $200 worth of close and sanitary stuff. That’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s a really big thing for someone who has been wearing the same clothes for six months.”
They’ve also been in contact with communities in Toronto and Vancouver and plan to travel to those cities to help set up teams that will offer long-term support to their large homeless populations.
Closer to home, plans are in the works for a barbecue for the homeless in Saskatoon on July 3, with the event also featuring a host of booths with agencies that can help the disadvantaged get off the streets and get the resources they need to recover.
Other than that, the plans just keep on developing.
“There’s lots of things in the background that we’re working on and we’re really looking forward to seeing just how far we can take this,” Hennink said.
You can find all the ‘Help Someone’ Movement videos on Hennink’s TikTok page (www.tiktok.com/@nicholashennink), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/henninknick) Instagram (www.instagram.com/nicholashennink) and Youtube page (www.youtube.com/c/NicholasHennink).