by Jade Small
What a difference a haircut makes
London based hairdresser Joshua Coombes, in his spare time, started making a difference to the lives of homeless people, one haircut at a time, for several years now. As hairdressers tend to do, he chatted with his clients and asked about their lives on the streets. He heard their stories, their feelings and reasons for being there.
Homelessness is a huge problem globally and it’s not going away. It’s a rare occurrence for anyone to speak to these people, let alone make eye contact. Some cities have gone so far as to remove city and park benches and installed what I call “discomfort benches” and other nasty additions to sidewalks to prevent people sleeping or sitting there.
Although there is awareness of the problem, there’s not much compassion for those existing on the streets (one could hardly call it “living”). This prompted Joshua to start a movement to raise compassion, to show that homeless people are humans like the rest of us and none of them chose the circumstance they find themselves in.
Joshua, with the client’s permission, takes a before and after picture and asks if he can share their story on his “Do Something For Nothing” Instagram page.
Here’s one man’s story:
This is Chris.
He was in a bad way when I first met him. A friend of his had passed away just a few weeks before… Sadly, his friend was one of 50 homeless people who died on streets in Greater Manchester last year.
Chris was in the army for years. He spoke a bit about that. “Things have changed a lot since then… I suffered with PTSD for a while afterwards. I didn’t know what to do with myself when that period of time ended. Well, anyway…here I am.”
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I just arrived in Manchester this evening for @lightnoiseart exhibition tomorrow evening and I’ve been thinking about the last time I was here. This is Chris. He was in a bad way when I first met him. A friend of his had passed away just a few weeks before… Sadly, his friend was one of 50 homeless people who died on streets in Greater Manchester last year. Chris was in the army for years. He spoke a bit about that. “Things have changed a lot since then… I suffered with PTSD for a while afterwards. I didn’t know what to do with myself when that period of time ended. Well, anyway…here I am. I cut Chris’s hair in an alleyway away from the noise of the city centre nearby. It was nice to share those moments together before he had to run on to an appointment. Before we left, I asked Chris his message: “Have a little bit of love..spread it as much as you can…do you know what I mean? We’re all in this together. We all came into this world the same way…we’ll all go out the same way. We all end up in the same sized fucking box.”. I’d love to see anyone in Manchester at our event tomorrow. Free entry. All welcome. 6pm – 9pm at @theyard_mcr (Link in bio) It’s important to find new ways of telling the story of people like Chris to create a change. I believe in art and expression to do so. #DoSomethingForNothing
Joshua now travels the world doing what he does so well, bringing a smile and hope to people who often feel invisible to those around them. His “Do Something For Nothing” movement has grown and evolved too.
Speaking about the movement, the 31-year-old told UNILAD:
“For me it’s not about whether someone’s deserving or undeserving. We’re all human, we all make mistakes.
It’s about trying to get rid of that thick layer of stigma that surrounds people who live on the streets in most cities and painting it literally in a new colour, which is not just statistics.”
The Do Something For Nothing (DSFN) movement is about compassion for our fellow human beings. How a small act of kindness can mean the world to someone who has nothing to look forward to.
Joshua’s clients are often completely transformed by their makeover and it shows in their eyes and their smiles. Right from the start of his journey of compassion Joshua realised how much he benefits too, that regardless of their new look, it’s the time spent chatting without prejudice, the human contact that makes the biggest difference.
INSTAGRAM POST PARIS
When Joshua started sharing these stories on Instagram and Facebook, people wanted to know more about the people he was meeting
He says: “The hashtag was DSFN because it’s not really about haircuts for homeless as such, it’s more about the time and conversation that I share with someone.
They’re the moments that are most important to all of us really, at the end of the day they’re what we share with one another.
Some people I go back and visit, and sometimes I just meet them that one time, but for me each of those is as important as the other, whether it ends with big smiles or just a nod of appreciation.”
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Whilst in Paris recently, I walked back to the same street where I once visited my late friend, Cedric. I always go back to this spot when I’m in the city. One street away from where he used to sleep, I met Florin. Florin came to Paris from Romania late last year. He’s worked in construction jobs for most of his life, but recently, steady employment became difficult, so he left for job opportunities elsewhere. He only spoke a small amount of English. But thankfully, one of Jaz’s (@theworldwidetribe) good friends, Joanna, is Romanian, so she help us communicate over the phone. When Florin came to Paris, things took an unexpected turn… He experienced a stroke that left him in hospital for a week. When he woke, Florin no longer had his passport or phone with him and had no memory of what happened… Without his documents, He had no way to travel back home so began sleeping on the streets… When we met Florin, he was waiting for an appointment with the Embassy of Romania and was in limbo for the foreseeable. Florin told us what makes him happy in life. It was was so good to meet that day. His warmth really shone through as we spent more time together. So much so that he insisted that we visit him in Romania when he manages to get back there. One realistic goal we can all have is to be more aware and present for those around us who might feel isolated. I saw the difference it made in Florin that someone noticed him and listened. Nothing should get in the way of the connection you can make with another human being and the potential is has to help them and, in turn, help yourself. #DoSomethingForNothing
Joshua went on to explain how the movement evolved, saying:
“The more I carried on doing it I saw other people join in, and it just kind of progressed. Now this is all I do, and each week it’s about finding new ways to tell those stories and get other people involved.
A lot of people are compassionate towards homelessness, but it’s all about how we can make the idea more accessible to everyone.”
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Yesterday, I ran into Mathew again. We first met in the summer of 2017 in a park not far from this spot, in Central London. Mathew’s been away for a while since we last saw one another. He had his head down but I recognised him. Mathew – “Yeh, I remember – You cut my hair! And for my friend Luke also. It was summer wasn’t it..? I haven’t seen Luke for ages. We were really close. I miss him. He just disappeared one day about a year ago and I have no idea where he is… I find it difficult to get close to people. There’s nobody in particular that I reach out speak with. Things are up and down. Some days are worse than others. The small things that happen each day can help though… Like, I know I’m not all that approachable. I’ve never been very confident socially. But, when people do take the time to have a conversation, it means something. Everyone needs different things in their life. But having someone to listen to you is important for everybody.” #DoSomethingForNothing
Joshua and his artist friend Jamie decided to find additional ways to raise awareness with the stories of homeless people.
They traveled to Skid Row in Los Angeles, an area densely populated by the homeless. Joshua doing what he usually does with his scissors and trimmer while Jamie took photographs from which he later painted portraits.
Jamie’s art was displayed in a gallery in a show called Light and Noise
Discussing the show, Joshua said:
“It was called Light and Noise because we believe we can all shine a light and make some noise. Even if we don’t know the solution I think it’s okay to be an amplifier.
We try to give isolated people more importance.”
And from there, the show went to London where Joshua with TOMS and they organised Light and Noise events in Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin.
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