We live in a world where tragedy has become an all too common event; we see shootings, bombings, massacres, and vehicular attacks almost every other day on the internet now. It’s heartbreaking and it brings us down, so we share the news story and put a filter on our profile picture and use the trending hashtag to show support. It makes us feel better, it raises “awareness” of something we’re all shaken by. But what good are we actually doing? Imagine for a moment if it was your home, in your city, full of your friends and family, and imagine if the whole world just posted statuses of prayer and love, and no one physically did a thing. There are some moments that come out of nowhere and shake our realities, and the closer you are the epicenter of the events, the more violent the whiplash. These are the moments that your choices matter the most, and when those choices become definitions of you, the moments where sharing a solidarity meme simply won’t cut it.
Meet Dustin Hoots, a Las Vegas resident who took action after the Route 91 shooting by starting a movement called “The Helpful Hoodlums”. I had the opportunity to see Dustin and his amazing team work with local and out of town volunteers, donors, businesses, and first responders to get supplies and food to anyone in need, and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
Are you a Vegas native? If not, what landed you here and what’s your history in Vegas?
I’m not a Vegas native. I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, then to Chula Vista, California, then landed in Vegas and never left. I spent most of my younger years being a degenerate and playing with cars, while spending nights at the hunt ridge and getting immersed in the local punk scene. I bounced around from a bunch of jobs throughout and after college, then opened an art gallery/music venue with some friends called The Artistic Armory, to help nurture the punk scene I feel in love with. Now I’m doing hoodlum stuff to try to help everyone.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Vegas?
My favorite thing about living in Vegas is the options – entertainment, art, food, hours. It’s perfect for someone like myself with ADHD.
I heard in a news interview that you guys were shuttling people out of the area right after the shooting?
Yeah, once I found out there were people stranded and unable to get out, I started driving people who needed to go to the hospitals there, and then just kept driving people to safety, and eventually back to their hotels from the Thomas and back when it was safe. I started driving people around 11PM, and ran out of people to give rides to around 9AM the following morning.
What were the first 24 hours like?
The first 24 hours were chaos. Panicking people, distressed people all over parts of Las Vegas Boulevard, lots of crying and rushing to get people where they needed to go. Then we went to Evel Pie to help deliver hot food that they donated, and I ended up not getting home from all of this until around midnight October 2nd.
What inspired you to start Helpful Hoodlums?
I’ve always kind of been charity minded, but it was always in the vein of benefit shows for other charities. The night of the shooting and the following days, we noticed the big charities weren’t helping people on a personal level, most likely because they couldn’t, and myself and some friends decided to try and fill the gaps that big charities were unable to.
Can you give a brief description of how the operation works?
We have a team of volunteers that just wanna help people. So we accept any donation anyone wants to give, and we find a place that needs it. Whether that’s victim aid, directly to victims’ families, the homeless shelter, or shade tree and the like.
Roughly how many volunteers do you think have come through since this started?
As far as numbers go, I’d say we have 25-30 hoodlums, and the people that offer to help us when we get super hectic, is immeasurable. Everyone in the city is coming together to help.
What kind of reactions are you experiencing from donors and drop off locations? Has the typically unorthodox look of The Hoodlums raised any eyebrows?
At first, it seemed like people thought we were temporary, and possibly not on the up and up, but now were getting “thank yous” from metro, the FBI, homeless people, and the families we’ve been directly talking to, in order to give them more customized aid according to their immediate needs.
Do you think you’ll turn The Helpful Hoodlums into something long term?
It sort of feels like we have to make it a permanent thing, it’s doing too much good, and fitting way too well to stop.
How can people in Vegas help out?
Anyone in Vegas can help by contacting us to drop off donations, or to offer help on drop offs. Its most likely going to evolve constantly, so liking the Facebook page will keep people up to date.
How can people everywhere else help?
Everywhere else can help by sending gift cards, or contacting us, and starting a chapter of hoodlums in their city. Every city has people that don’t fit a charity mold that wants to help, so make your own. Be nice to strangers, and be mean to your friends.
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