For New Haircuts-for-Homeless Scheme, Hairdressers Rally

It’s a simple thing for most of us just to nip in to the barbers or book an appointment at the hair salon. It’s nothing.

Then there’s that uplifting feeling we get stepping back out on the street, freshly groomed. Brand new. Again, though, it’s no more than we deserve.

We don’t think about it because it’s taken for granted. But for homeless people, the people who need it more than most, getting a haircut is a luxury that’s rarely experienced.

That’s about to change, when a new service offering free haircuts to homeless people launches this bank-holiday Monday at the Capuchin Day Centre.

Haircuts 4 Homeless, the organisation behind the scheme, was set up last November by hairdresser Stewart Roberts in his home town of Romford, England.

Roberts, who’s been in the cutting game 37 years, says he was inspired by Mark Bustos, a New York hairstylist who offers on-street haircuts for homeless people.

A recovering alcoholic, Roberts had spent a lot of time in the Salvation Army, where he’d been around a lot of homeless people.

Adapting Bustos’s idea, “I’ll do it in the Salvation Army,” he says. And so, Haircuts 4 Homeless was born.

Soon after setting up, Roberts gave a homeless woman a haircut, and then she had a job interview and got the job. The story was covered in the local paper.

“Then we were asked to do it in other places, and it pretty much spread from there,” he says.

There’s now Haircuts 4 Homeless operating towns and cities across England, including Chelmsford, South End, Ipswich, and Colchester

They operate as a sort of franchise.

“We try to get a team together, a team leader in place and a few volunteers who do a regular monthly stint, then we move on to a different area,” he says.

Roberts was asked by a fellow hairdresser to help set a branch up in Dublin, but she recently emigrated, which left him with no hairdressers, he said.

Not deterred, he put a small advert on Facebook and “was absolutely blown away by the response”. “So far, we’ve had 670 likes and 65 hairdressers who’ve volunteered,” he says.

He will only need two or three on the day, he says, because of space.

“To be honest, I was only expecting two or three,” he says. “I did an advert in Brighton, and I ended up with two or three come to help. Same advert in Dublin gets 65.”

Those other 60 or so volunteers won’t go to waste, however, because Roberts is holding an open meeting on the Tuesday 27 October in the Gibson Hotel, “where all these volunteers can come together and we can really get something sorted before we go back”.

He says there are enough volunteers to have an on-going hair-cutting service for homeless people in all the homeless day centres across the city.

Theresa Robinson will be one of the few hairdressers volunteering on the Monday in the Capuchin Centre.

She’s been hairdressing for 11 years and works out of Rum Toffee, a hair salon in Ballyfermot.

She saw the ad on Facebook and signed up straight away. She’s not new to volunteering and has given her time to drug-addiction services in Crumlin, but she thought offering her cutting skills was a great way to give back.

“I thought it’d be nice to do it with hairdressing,” she said. “I’d like to do it every month, and I know a lot of hairdressers, and I’d like to get more of them to do it too.”

For some it’s just a haircut, Roberts says, but for others it has much more of an impact. It makes people feel better about themselves. “I’ve had someone thank me for just talking to them,” he says.

Once a Haircuts 4 Homeless centre is established, Roberts says, “you get regulars coming back; they look forward to us coming back once a month. They get to rely on us in the end.”

Alan Bailey, volunteer coordinator at the Capuchin Day Centre, says he and the centre are looking forward to seeing how Monday turns out. “I’d be more than surprised if there wasn’t a big uptake,” he says.

“We already provide hygiene facilities, showers and things like that,” he says. “This will be another service we’re providing and we’re delighted to offer it and very grateful to the people behind it.”

Haircuts 4 Homeless will be working at the Capuchin Day Centre on Monday 26 October from 9.00am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 3.00pm.

The open meeting for volunteers will take place at the Gibson Hotel on Tuesday 27 October between 1.30pm and 4.30pm.

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Damien Murphy: Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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