Starting in mid-February, Rome’s homeless will be able to get free shaves and haircuts every Monday at the Vatican.
Volunteer barbers who usually have that day off will provide the services. The program will rely heavily on donated razors, scissors, and other equipment, much of which has already been given to the Holy See.
The free haircuts come after the Vatican started installing showers for the homeless at public restrooms in St. Peter’s Square and in ten Roman parishes where the homeless are known to sleep. Pope Francis’s Almoner Konrad Krajewski, the Vatican’s point person on giving to the poor, was inspired to launch both initiatives after a homeless man named Franco initially declined to have dinner with him. Franco explained it was because he smelled and had no where to get clean. “Here no one starves to death,” he told Krajewski. “You can find a sandwich every day. But there is no place to use the toilet and wash.”
An estimated 3,276 homeless people live in Rome, and half of them have no shelter at night.
The homeless face many challenges, but the inability to wash and keep up one’s appearance can be a hurdle to getting job interviews, going to doctor’s appointments, and keeping a sense of personal dignity. To alleviate this problem here in the U.S., one California nonprofit offers the homeless showers in a mobile bus, while a high-end hairdresser in New York City offers free haircuts.
Helping the homeless has been a particular priority for Pope Francis. In the first apostolic exhortation of his papacy, he asked, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” He’s also pointed out that the Bible calls for a “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits” to aid the poor. He’s followed up those words by sneaking out of the Vatican to minister to the homeless at night, inviting nearly 200 homeless people to have dinner with him at the Vatican, and for his birthday in December handing out 400 sleeping bags to Rome’s homeless population.