Hairdresser gives free haircuts to homeless people around the world
Posted September 26
When your coif is not quite correct, it can put a damper on everything-hence the term "bad hair day."
Now imagine the emotional impact of not having the ability to wash your hair regularly, let alone get regular haircuts. For millions of homeless people, this is part of their reality.
So London-based hairdresser Joshua Coombes decided to make difference-one haircut at a time.
This is Charlie, 20 years old. I met Charlie last week on Regent street. I stood and watched for five minutes before I approached him. In a such a busy area, it's easy to see how isolated you could feel sitting out here all day without much in the way of acknowledgment from busy shoppers passing by. I met Charlie before a few months ago in a different area, I asked him why he chose to sit here – "With all the money around this place I suppose you think it would be a good option, but that can vary. To be honest, keeping in a good headspace isn't even about how much money you get out here. When someone has time to stop, you remember it." Charlie has some temporary accommodation to stay in at the moment with other young men of a similar age – "We're all looking for work of some kind, but most people spend their time on the street. I was sleeping rough before this and you learn how to survive." Charlie spoke to me a bit about his mother – "She's always suffered with drug addiction and it got a lot worse a few years ago. It's complicated. We don't see each other any more. If I had somewhere else to turn, I would." Charlie has this magic in his soul, you can feel it when you talk to him and see it in his eyes. There's bags of potential energy there. I asked him what he'd like to do to get a new chapter started in his life – "I've been thinking about working in the food industry, I don't know exactly what to do yet but I'd like to try that." Since meeting Charlie I've been in conversation some really helpful people about trying to get him some work and speaking to him on the phone also. #DoSomethingForNothing
While visiting New York City, Coombes was inspired by hairstylists who provide free haircuts for homeless people. When he returned home, he decided to do the same during his off hours. Now, he performs as many as seven haircuts a day. As he explained to the UK’s Daily Mail, "It is easy to just give money to charity, but it is even more rewarding to create awareness."
This is Samantha, 28 years old, originally from Essex, homeless in London for the last three years. The Samantha most people will see each day is a girl hustling to make her next pound, in the hope to accumulate enough money to buy her next fix. Surviving on any food or drinks kindly brought for her by people passing by. Looking at this on the surface, it's easy to see how a certain opinion could be formed. As I was cutting Samantha's hair she started speaking to me more deeply about her addiction – "I don't know if it was ever fun for me really. I saw hard drugs from an early age at home. I've always been around it. I wish it didn't have a hold on me like this but it has." It's very difficult to go into detail, but Samantha was very honest with me about some abuse she's suffered as child, telling me these events have always effected her. I could see there was a deep pain here and that heroin is her best attempt to begin to relieve this. Getting to the roots of a story in this way is so important to try and understand the complexities of an issue like drug addiction. Samantha has a boyfriend she spends most of her time with on the street, they've been together for years now. This relationship has it's complications. They have children of their own that are being looked after by relatives at the moment. It's a really sad situation and Samantha clearly feels that – "I miss my children so much, I need to sort my life out, I know I do. I talk to them on the phone whenever I can but it's never enough." I know there are so many negative elements in this post that it's probably difficult to feel the hope in the situation, but here it is – I saw a change in Samantha during the time we spent together. It may have been slight, but it was there. She told me how much it meant just having someone outside of her usual circle to speak with and how much it means when people acknowledge her each day and smile. She knows she's made mistakes and that weighs heavily on her, but any judgement on top of this will surely only add to the pain. Your influence can make a difference, it's up to you how you use it. #DoSomethingForNothing
Coombes has since provided haircuts and shaves to countless homeless men and some women in his hometown. He even travels the world offering his services, which has taken him to France, Germany, Spain and back to the United States.
This is Guillermo, 60 years old. He has been homeless for many years after moving to Europe from Argentina. As a younger man, he found work in Paris before moving to Barcelona. I cut Guillermo's hair on the street in El Raval, after visiting the @ArrelsFundacio nearby. The volunteers working there are just incredible. I felt the love and community sprit as soon as I walked in. People of all ages dedicate their time to help the homeless in Barcelona. What sticks out the most is the relationships between those in on the street and those volunteering for Arrels. Such genuine friendships and bonds that have been built and it really shows in the smiles I saw all day. Guillermo has been with Arrels since 2008 and uses many different resources. He is a great artist and collaborated with @HomelessFonts by sharing his typography. (Check out the work Homeless Fonts do to creatively bring people together to improve their lives) Soon, Guillermo will enter Llar Pere Barnés, a residence for the homeless as part of Arrels Fundacio housing scheme. He told me that the street can be a lonely place sometimes and that he doesn't want to live alone now, but would prefer to share his space and be with others. There was so many beautiful moments on this day. Seeing Guillermo's face as we hugged after his hair cut was definitely one of them âï¸ #DoSomethingForNothing
He sometimes shares stories of his interactions with his clients on Instagram, such as 70-year-old Jim (below) who lives in Los Angeles. As Coombes explains in the caption, Jim served in Vietnam and worked as an x-ray tech before falling on hard times. He’s now been homeless for three years, and he gave Coombes some insight into how that came to be.
“When I got home from Vietnam, I continued in the lab for a while. I met someone and we got married. She was a great girl, I suppose I was always punching above my weight. I found out she was cheating on me. It was rough, you know. I started drinking more often and caring less, it was only a matter of time before we spilt.”
This is Jim, 70 years old, homeless in LA for the last three years. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up and spent most of his life. For many years Jim worked as an X-ray technician in a laboratory. During the Vietnam war, he got the call up and was put through training to serve as a medic and technician there – "I spent four years in service. I guess I was lucky because I wasn't exposed to as much action as some were. I really loved my job back home and I was doing something pretty similar so that was quite lucky also." Jim spoke to me more about his life afterwards – "When I got home from Vietnam, I continued in the lab for a while. I met someone and we got married. She was a great girl, I suppose I was always punching above my weight. I found out she was cheating on me. It was rough, you know. I started drinking more often and caring less, it was only a matter of time before we spilt." Jim moved down to LA fifteen years ago, for a new start and a warmer climate – "I was getting sick of the cold winters in Wisconsin and there was nothing left for me in that place. When I moved here I had odd jobs for a long time – Grocery stores, handing out flyers and putting up posters, things like that. I got a good deal on a place up the road here in Echo Park, but the rent kept on going up and the guy I was living with let me down on his share. There was one month where it all just went wrong. Here I am." Jim said loves talking with people that have the time for him. As I was cutting, a girl went over to buy him a new shirt from the store across the road. Jim loved it. #DoSomethingForNothing
He told Coombes that he moved to California 15 years ago for the warmer weather.
“I got a good deal on a place up the road here in Echo Park, but the rent kept on going up and the guy I was living with let me down on his share,” Jim said. “There was one month where it all just went wrong. Here I am.”
This is Cedric, 42 years old. I met Cedric in Paris a few days ago on Boulevard Monmarte. He has been homeless for three years now. At first, I noticed the sign he'd made, which read – 'Vote for me in 2022.' When I said hello, I was given a big greeting in return, we started talking. Cedric is French, born in a small town in the north of Paris, growing up with his mother and sister. I was lucky Cedric spoke great english. I asked him where he had learnt – "I used to live in London for some years with my friends. I remember the carnivals so well, I loved my time there." – It turns out Cedric and I have lived on the same street in Brixton, what are the chances! I do feel we connected almost immediately, so it was really nice to hear Cedric open up some more about his life recently – "I used to live with my girlfriend here in Paris. When we broke up it hit me pretty hard. Yes, it's fair to say I started drinking a bit more then. I was holding down a job at a library near here. It didn't pay all that much but I enjoyed my work. One day we found out the library was to be down sized considerably, so many of us lost our jobs. The drinking increased and so did rent on my apartment at the time. I guess I stopped caring. It wasn't long before I became homeless." Next to Cedric was his pal Dada. I could tell these guys were close and that they really helped each other out on the street – "I saw Dada looking at me one day. After staring at me for a moment, he broke into a big smile, we've been friends ever since. It's important to have that when you're homeless. I used to have an amazing friend that looked out for me, I suppose she was my step mother almost…" At this point, tears appeared in Cedric's eyes, but he continued – "She owned a music venue in the 9th Arrondissement, it was the best place for music. Whenever I visited her she would feed me, talk to me and give me hope. I never had to paid. Always food and water, she would never give me alcohol. One week, I visited and she was no longer there. I found out she had died. It really broke me. I still think about her everyday." When it came to showing Cedric he mirror at the end, his reaction said it all.
Coombes is taking his outreach a step further and turning it into a movement with a site DoSomethingForNothing and the hashtag #DoSomethingForNothing. He hopes to encourage others to follow suit helping the homeless and helping to humanize their situation.
Coombes hopes he can inspire more people to help others and show them how easy it is. As he writes on his site, “We’re not raising awareness, we’re raising compassion.”