If you have to choose between buying food or paying for a haircut, spending money on your appearance usually comes second.
That’s why the hairdressers who volunteer their time and skills at a number of Salvation Army centres around the nation are appreciated so much.
Hairdresser Benny donates his scissor skills every second week at the Salvo Sunday Dinner, held at Hobart Salvation Army Corps (church). He approached the Salvos with the idea last year after observing similar acts of kindness in Taiwan, where he trained.
“In Taiwan it is a strong belief that every person, regardless of their circumstances, can do something to help another person … every little kind act can have a big impact,” Benny says.
Benny goes along to the community dinner, which feeds up to 50 people a week, to give an average of four haircuts each time — everything from a trim, tidying up a beard, or restyle.
Salvo officer (minister) Angela Watson, who organises Salvo Sunday Dinners with Hobart Corps ministers Johnmark and Nicole Snead, says Benny’s generosity gives a boost to his ‘clients’ self-esteem and dignity.
“Getting a haircut wouldn’t be a top priority for people who are struggling to make ends meet, or are living on the streets,” Angela says. “It would be seen as a luxury or possibly as unnecessary due to their circumstances.”
Angela, who is the chaplain at McCombe House, says a similar initiative began there last year when another hairdresser offered her services to the women and children seeking safety from domestic violence. She sets up a makeshift salon and can give up to five people haircuts during her monthly visits.
The hairdresser has at times provided a full makeover and Angela has seen a dramatic lift in clients’ self-esteem.
“On our last hairdresser day, one client entered the ‘salon’ despondent and almost reluctantly. Her ex-partner had hacked off her hair. This was a cause of shame and embarrassment for the woman,” Angela says.
“But she left with her head held high and a smile on her face. We’ve observed that since the haircut this woman has become more positive in her outlook and more engaged in the process of finding accommodation. The haircut has given her hope.”
It’s a similar story at The Salvation Army Sydney Streetlevel, in the city’s inner suburbs, and Project 614 in the Melbourne CBD.
Streetlevel community engagement administrator, Elise, says professional hairdressers come into the centre twice a month for a couple of hours.
“It’s great for the people who come here to have the opportunity of a free haircut because there’s always more urgent things for them to spend their money on,” she says.
“Our volunteer hairdressers give up to 10 haircuts over the couple of hours they’re here. They enjoy themselves, too, chatting to the people whose hair they’re cutting, seeing what we do and being able to help out.”
Pop-up salons are set up at the back of the café at Project 614 on Tuesday evenings and Friday nights.
Operations manager Phoebe Avenell says the queue for the barber is always a long one.
“Jarrod, whose parents were Salvation Army officers, is one of our volunteer barbers offering free haircuts for the homeless,” Phoebe says.
“He attends our Twilight Cafe on Tuesdays from 5pm–7.30pm. We also have barbers at our Night Cafe on Friday nights from around 11pm–midnight provided by the organisation ‘Reaching Out Because We Can’. Both sets of barbers cut men’s and women’s hair. It’s a great way to provide some pampering and normality to community members who would otherwise be unable to access this service.
“It’s so lovely to see the smiles on their faces when the barber holds up the mirror at the end of the haircut.”