Haircuts4Homeless is a community group where skilled hairdressers give their time free-of-charge to provide haircuts for homeless people in the UK. Set up by veteran hairdresser Stewart Roberts in Havering in November 2014, Haircuts4Homeless now has 49 sites with over 600 volunteers nationwide and has delivered over 35,000 free haircuts. In 2018, Haircuts4Homeless and Stewart became the face of The People’s Project for the National Lottery.
Haircuts4Homeless like many things, came about by accident. 13 years sober, Stewart had been helping alcoholics and drug dependents for the previous ten years. Then in November 2014, inspiration struck as he was delivering a rehab course and had recently seen Mark Bustos doing haircuts on homeless people in New York. The following week, scissors in hand, he arrived a couple of hours early for his course and used the time to cut a few of the homeless guys’ hair who had come for something to eat. It was so well received and he enjoyed it so much he thought it ought to become a regular thing.
Stewart not only set out to cut the hair of the homeless himself but to also build a whole community of skilled volunteers. “Hairdressers have a known empathy,” Stewart says. “We are great communicators and the industry is known for its generosity and willingness to help people, so I knew that many hairdressers would be willing to give some of their time and expertise.”
“There is something very personal about cutting someone’s hair that can be both enjoyable and therapeutic which is something that many homeless people rarely experience. Homeless people have many challenges to face, one of them often being low self-esteem. A haircut can have a great effect, giving someone a real boost. It’s often way down on a homeless person’s priorities so this service, which for most is a luxury, proves to be very popular.”
Stewart Roberts, Founder of Haircuts4Homeless
One of peoples’ basic rights is for them to feel good about themselves. It may be ‘just a haircut’, but it’s the kindness shown that makes a homeless person know that people really care. Haircuts4Homeless realise there is an ongoing need based on constant feedback from day centres, clients and volunteers who prove that this initiative is changing lives.
“It makes you feel a lot better. If I could afford to go in a salon, I would. I live in a tent on the cliffs or in the job centre car park. It’s freezing down there and when it rains it gets flooded. Because I’m a girl, I don’t sleep some nights because I’m always protecting myself. That’s why a haircut makes you feel good, it makes you feel better.”
I felt rough, my hair was tangled, it was falling out due to my homelessness. Since you have cut my hair, I feel so much more relieved and better. I feel proud of my hair and refreshed and good with myself.
Whatever the causes of an individual’s homelessness, the consequences can be brutal. Homelessness damages peoples’ capability through loss of skills, through an inability to think about employment while worrying about housing, and through their health becoming impaired while homeless. Homelessness also damages peoples’ resilience, self-esteem and self-confidence.
One in four ex-homeless people also find themselves unable to sustain a tenancy – loneliness and isolation are the main causes, often compounded by lack of choice about where they can live. Therefore, it is important to build people’s skills, confidence and capability to empower them to feel in control of their lives again and so they are able to move on from homelessness for good.
Stewart is working on the next steps for Haircuts4Homeless starting with the first Academy course, helping the homeless learn skills in hairdressing to enable them to segue into the workplace once again.