June 13, 2014 8:22 am
Updated: June 13, 2014 9:19 am

Winnipeg squeegee couple living in squalor find each other – and hope

WINNIPEG – He sold drugs and she sold herself to feed their hunger for crack cocaine – but with squeegees and hope, they’re pulling themselves out of the gutter.

Drew and Rina Hermkens do a job many hold in low esteem, but it’s brought them together and it marks a big step away from their destructive pasts.

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“It’s nice to be able to go to the fridge and say the food is still here because the crackhead didn’t steal it,” Drew Hermkens says. “It’s nice to be able to leave a bar of soap in the bathroom. In a rooming house, you leave that there and it’s used.”

Rina Hermken hated her now husband when they first met seven years ago on the street, where they sold what they had so they could get high. Now they’re married and they share a home, paying their bills with their squeegees and helping out at the Winnipeg Harvest food bank.

“I just looked at him and I thought, ‘What a low life,’ ” Rina says.

“You weren’t any better,” Drew responds.

“I had no feelings for nobody. All I wanted was that drug,” he says. “Food cut into the drug fund, cigarettes cut into my drug fund, alcohol cut into my drug fund.”

“When you are out there and you say to yourself, ‘I don’t care, I just want that drug’ – well, eventually you’re going to have to deal with that when you’re sober,” she says.

But the two challenged each other and slowly began to make changes.

“I told her, ‘Why don’t you clean a car instead of getting into one?’ ” he says.

“And I found it easier to do that,” she says. “He started building up on my good qualities. … He was making me think about myself and my character.”

He did it because he saw something others had missed.

“I really respected her because she stood up to me. … Even the biggest guys back then wouldn’t stand up to me, because I was very intimidating.”

Then another person stepped into their lives and helped them succeed in the changes they were making.

The couple, striving to escape their miserable lifestyle, pitched a tent behind the Winnipeg Harvest building, and that’s where food bank executive director David Northcott found them.

“It was his eyes and his gentle approach that made me take that helping hand,” Rina says.

They started to get counselling and became Winnipeg Harvest volunteers. They took a marriage course before they married and the certificate from that program and others are proudly displayed in their home.

They still work the streets together, but now, they wield squeegees to earn money for their life together instead of selling their souls for drugs. They’ve been sober for six months.

“It was almost like as if I couldn’t be without him. He was more important than the drugs – he was part of me, of finding myself,” Rina says.

“I knew I was stuck with her and I love her very much,” Drew says, kissing his wife.

They won’t beg and they feel good about how they earn their living. They want everyone to know their success story, and learn from it.

“A lot of people we see say, ‘If Drew can quit drugs, so can anybody,’ ” Rina says. “We are an exception to the rule.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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