A London hairdresser gives free haircuts to homeless people and has created a selfless, encouraging social media movement off the back of it. Joshua Coombes has been heading out and about with his scissors for years now, offering to give those living on the streets a brand new look with a fresh trim. Like any good hairdresser, the 31-year-old gets chatting with his customers, listening to their thoughts, feelings, and stories. The only difference is, the streets are his salon. If you ask anyone about the issue of homelessness, I’m sure they’ll agree it’s a huge problem. Everyone’s aware there are countless people living on the streets, but Joshua’s movement isn’t so much about raising awareness; it’s about raising compassion.
After he’s finished cutting someone’s hair, the hairdresser asks if he can share their story on Instagram using the hashtag ‘Do Something For Nothing’. 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 from PTSD for a while afterward. I didn’t know what to do with myself when that period of time ended. Well, anyway…here I am.”
By sharing the stories of homeless people, Joshua highlights the fact that, like all humans, they have a history, a story which led them to the places they are today. 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 the stigma that surrounds people who live on the streets in most cities and painting it literally in a new color, which is not just statistics. The Do Something For Nothing (DSFN) movement encourages people to realize there is no ‘us and them’ when it comes to people living on the streets, and that a moment of compassion can go a long way.
Although the hairdresser often completely transforms his customers by giving them a new look, he explained how the movement is not so much about the haircuts, but about the time he spends chatting with those who are often completely ignored. He continued: These are people who I see myself in, and as I started to tell these stories to others I realized how much it impacted, and how many people wanted to know more about the people I was meeting. 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.
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 progress. 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. As Do Something For Nothing continued to grow, last year Joshua and longtime friend and artist Jamie decided to find another way to spread the stories of homeless people. The pair took a trip to Skid Row in Los Angeles, one of the most densely populated areas of the US for homelessness. As Joshua gave haircuts, Jamie would take photos and later paint portraits of those they had spent time with. They rented a gallery space and displayed the artwork in a show called Light and Noise, in the hopes of building a bridge between the homeless and visitors from other parts of LA.
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. The pair took the show to London, and later the hairdresser partnered with TOMS as part of the company’s Stand For Tomorrow campaign. Together, they organized four more Light and Noise events, in Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin. Joshua’s role as a changemaker with TOMS, the original One for One brand, has been forged in parallel with the evolution of the brand’s giving model. The company will now be partnering with changemakers and local organizations on projects with local impact, alongside their existing One for One programme.
In association with Light and Noise’s Manchester show, TOMS pledged to make a financial contribution to homeless charity Centrepoint, to fund the expansion of the charity’s engagement model in Manchester to help bridge the gap between the learning and training programmes available to young people, and their current levels of participation in those programmes. Funding the opportunity marks one of the most significant changes in Centrepoint’s ability to support homeless young people. Speaking about the collaboration with TOMS, Joshua said: It has been fantastic working alongside a brand like TOMS that actively incites social change. We have worked so closely to bring about further awareness of the problem of homelessness in our cities – an issue I’m very passionate about and hope to improve through giving greater visibility to the mainstream.
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) May 26, 2018
We can all positively impact the world – even with something as small as a haircut. Each Light and Noise show is centered around the host location, featuring the work of local artists and collaborating with a charity based in that city, such as Centrepoint. However, the constant throughout the four events will be Jamie’s artwork; 12 portraits depicting three people from each of the four cities. Joshua explained the 12 prints are vital as they ‘give us this realization that this is happening in every city’. He added: Hopefully, people will go away with a new perception of the people they’re seeing on the streets. Discussing the success of the movement, the hairdresser said: We don’t know how to eradicate homelessness overnight, but the way people engage with this is amazing.
I believe that it’s a movement which gives more people a chance to do things in their community, things they would have otherwise thought a charity would take care of. I’m completely collaborative on what I’m doing, there’s no helm to DSFN. It’s as much yours as it is mine. Do Something For Nothing and Light and Noise are both incredibly inspiring. They allow the faces of those who often go unnoticed to be projected and make a point that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to people living on the streets. The movement is something everyone could stand to get involved in; we can all do something for nothing and spread some compassion. If you need support or advice about housing, contact the Shelter helpline on 0808 800 4444, or visit their website.
Content Credit: unilad