The Power Of Giving Free Haircuts To The Homeless

Homeless clients at Mandie Barnes’s free haircuts event in December 2015 CREDIT: YOUTUBE/CIRCA3
Homeless clients at Mandie Barnes’s free haircuts event in December 2015 CREDIT: YOUTUBE/CIRCA3

When Mandie Barnes gets a good idea, she goes after it. About eight years ago, the 27-year-old quit a full-time job in public relations to pursue her passion in hair styling. “I seriously love what I do,” she said of her choice.

She had another idea at the end of last year after she heard about a hair stylist in New York City who uses his days off to give haircuts to the city’s homeless population. She and fellow hair stylists discussed how great an idea it was, but it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas that Barnes decided to take the plunge and make it happen in her own town of Ogden, Utah. “I was like, I’m just going to make it happen,” she said.

With the help of a group of friends she got eight other stylists interested — a tough task given how booked up their schedules tend to be around the winter holidays — some of whom drove as much as two and a half hours to be part of the event. “I called stylists I didn’t even know,” she said. “And now we’ve become friends.”

The group was blown away by how popular the offer of free haircuts for homeless neighbors ended up being. “We had pretty much a constant line of homeless people there to get their hair cut,” Barnes said. “At lunchtime the line wrapped around the outside of the building.” She estimates they cut nearly 100 people’s hair.

And it was a powerful moment for both the people in the chairs and the ones cutting hair. “You don’t realize the power of a haircut,” she said. “They were glowing…they were crying… They walked out definitely more confident than they walked in.”

In a video documenting the event created by production company CIRCA3, some of the homeless people who were there that day recounted what it meant. “It makes me feel like I’m respectable again. Look like, you know, an average person,” said one man. “It makes me feel human again. It’s awesome. Bring a little tear to my eye. Thank you so much,” said another.

But the biggest impact may have been on the stylists themselves. “I honestly don’t know who got more out of it, the hair stylists or the people that we helped,” Barnes said. “We realized you can help someone, do a lot with a talent that seems so simple to you but for them it’s a big deal.”

“It was all of our favorite part of the Christmas season,” she said. “It made us so happy to see their faces after we gave them a haircut.”

Barnes has already put plans in motion to do it again, but promises, “We’re going to make it even bigger next year.” She plans to hold the event on December 11 in a space that will provide sinks so they can wash people’s hair as well as cut and style it. She’s also gotten inquiries from a number of places that want to donate beauty supplies, free t-shirts, and other things for the homeless people who come through.

The reach of what she did, and the video documenting it, has been wider than she could have imagined. She’s been getting tons of inquiries about how to replicate it all over the place. “I ended up writing up a how-to guide that has all the details of what we did, and I’ve been sending it out to people all over the world,” she said.