One man on a mission to help those in need in Saskatoon
- Local Journalism Initiative - NC Raine | December 11, 2023
With so many individuals in the winter without warm clothes, food, or shelter, Ralph Nicotine is taking it upon himself to provide the essentials to those in need.
“No one should be cold or hungry,” he said.
Nicotine from the Red Pheasant First Nation is a musician, who goes by the stage name Biz Nico, he founded the Church in the Hood Ministry in 2014.
“We knew there was a huge need, so my wife and I discussed it, and decided to do this full time,” he said.
Nicotine is raising money to convert a school bus into a mobile warm-up shelter, where people can receive free hot coffee, food, soup, and winter clothing, while having a place to warm up if they lack shelter at night.
He was compelled to do something last year after someone froze to death on 20th Street.
“I see a lot of buildings open during the day, but no one is open at night,” said Nicotine. “That’s when we decided to do this.”
Last year, he leased a school bus to serve as a warm-up shelter, but decided it would be more practical to buy a bus and renovate it so it feels more like home.
So far, he’s raised about $12,000 through a GoFundMe page, but the goal is $20,000.
Last year, providing the service five-to-six-times a week, cost about $6,000 per month to cover food, beverages and fuel.
He paid for the expenses out of his own pocket until donations started flowing in.
Running the warm-up shelter last year emphasized the need for such a service in the city.
They would serve around 50 people on a quiet night, but up to 200 on busier nights.
Sometimes entire families would come for a meal, said Nicotine.
“It was such a positive experience,” he said. “Everyone is so appreciative. We were out there sometimes until four in the morning, so we would get to know a lot of people. They would open up and share their stories.”
A study last year conducted by the Saskatoon Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) showed in April, there were 550 people living without shelter.
But SHIP believes the actual numbers are much higher.
“There’s more and more people every year,” said Nicotine. “There’s more addictions, more drugs, which is sad. The problem is definitely overlooked. We have two shelters here that are doing a great job, but it would be great if there was more.”
He sometimes has volunteers with him but is often in the bus alone during the nights. People have voiced concerned for his safety, but he’s not concerned.
“I serve a God who protects me,” said Nicotine. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people (who come to the bus). They’re like family.”
According to the Church of the Hood Ministries Facebook Page, an old school bus has been purchased and work is being done to get in ready for service by Dec. 1.
The plan is to start out at three-to-four times a week, which will increase as the temperatures get lower.
It will be running at City Centre Church on 20th Street West, which Nicotine said is a good, well-lit, and safe location.
Donations to Nicotine’s ‘Church in the Hood’ warm-up bus can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/bus-for-winter-warm-up-saskatoon?utm_campaign=p_nacp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer