When asked why he was giving free haircuts to homeless individuals in Los Angeles in the run-up to the 2019 holidays, Jason Schneidman, celebrity stylist and owner of THEMENSGROOMER, told a local CBS affiliate that “a haircut can change someone’s life.” He wasn’t being dramatic— a fresh cut and a new look can give anyone more confidence and an enhanced impression. Schneidman isn’t alone in this mindset—Butler Tech Cosmetology in Hamilton, Ohio, offered free services to homeless men, women, and children around the same time, as did RAZZLEDAZZLE Barbershop at a local shelter in their home city of Miami. In fact, barbers, stylists, makeup artists, estheticians, and cosmetologists across the country volunteer their services to underserved populations on a regular basis. Why? It’s simple: because it’s good for the community, it’s good for their careers, and it’s good for business.
Why Should You Help?
One of the people who received a free cut from Schneidman was a homeless man named Craig Vonlanken. He told CBS that when you’re homeless, “It’s at least a part-time job and probably closer to a full-time job[,] just staying warm and clothed and fed.” With most of their waking hours consumed with meeting immediate needs like food and shelter, homeless individuals can scarcely spare the time, or certainly the money, on “little” things like their personal appearance. But if you decide to volunteer your services to this community, you’ll quickly find that the impact of your efforts is anything but little.
The digital media and entertainment website Refinery29 profiled an award-winning cosmetologist and Instagram beauty influencer named Shirley Raines, who offers free beauty services to homeless people who live on the streets of Los Angeles. She’s found that many of her clients are nearly as desperate for a fresh haircut, makeup, skin regimen, and nail treatment as they are for food and a place to sleep. Her generous services allow children to go to school with confidence and avoid the wrath of bullies, and gives adults a chance to walk into job interviews presenting their finest selves. Most importantly, however, the service she provides gives something that can’t be quantified in dollars or calories—human dignity, which so many homeless people lose and desperately crave.
“They want to look in the mirror and see something other than their circumstances,” she said.
If you serve the homeless as a cosmetologist, you can do more than help people in need and contribute to the community—you can also help yourself. Here’s how:
- Volunteerism looks great on a resume: It’s hard to imagine that an employer has ever rejected a candidate for being too compassionate and community-minded. Employers seek workers who go the extra mile, and volunteerism embodies that concept.
- It makes you a fixture in the community—and beyond: Schneidman, Raines, and the countless other cosmetologists who go out of their way to serve the underprivileged have enjoyed an outpouring of local support from their communities and clients, becoming local celebrities of sorts in many towns and cities, in addition to the recognition they’ve received from national publications.
- It gives you a chance to hone your skills: Even if you don’t charge for your services, you get to practice your craft with every treatment you perform.
- People like supporting socially responsible businesses: According to Forbes, an overwhelming majority of consumers want local businesses to address social justice issues and use their resources and public platform to benefit the community. Nearly nine out of ten of these consumers would spend money on products or services based solely on a company’s commitment to social betterment and change.
- Good press is the best advertising: What do Raines, Schneidman, and the rest have in common? Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed. News outlets, bloggers, and writers lined up to tell their stories, which gave them the ultimate advertisement: free press.
- Independent contractors can build their brands: If you’re a freelance cosmetologist who offers your services on a contract basis, your community service can set you apart from your long list of competitors.
- You could reduce your taxable income: While the time you spend volunteering won’t get you any tax breaks, many expenses related to charitable work are tax-deductible.
16 Ways Cosmetologists Can Serve Homeless Communities
Ok. So, you want to help your community and yourself by offering cosmetology services to the homeless—but where do you start? Here’s a look at the steps you can take to add this exciting new dynamic to your career. Further down on the page, you’ll find a list of resources to explore that can help you put these ideas into action.
- Determine the framework: Some volunteer cosmetologists physically go to shelters or other locations to offer their services directly to the community. Other times, salon or spa owners will open their shops for a certain period of time—one day a month, for example—for the purpose of serving the homeless. Step one is to determine how, where, when, and how frequently you want to offer your services to the homeless or other populations in crisis.
- Partner with local homeless shelters: Local shelters are a good starting place. This, of course, is where the homeless congregate, but shelters are also where you’ll find the advocates, volunteers, and professionals who understand their needs and can point compassionate professionals like yourself in the right direction if you’re unsure how to turn your talent into service.
- Reach out to local women’s organizations: Women constitute a large portion of the more than half-a-million Americans who experience homelessness on any given night. They also face unique challenges and difficulties. Your local women’s organization is best suited to understand their needs.
- Call domestic violence shelters: For many women, fleeing domestic violence is the root cause of homelessness. A call to a local shelter for battered women can help get you started if this is the population you’re passionate about serving.
- Get in touch with a children’s services agency: Every year, 2 million children endure a period of homelessness. Some have been rejected by parents or guardians, others have fled to escape abuse or neglect. No matter the cause, almost 40% of America’s homeless are under 18, and they’re especially susceptible to abuse.
- Contact a family services agency: On any given night, about 60,000 families with children are homeless. Family service agencies can give you a chance to directly serve these particularly vulnerable populations.
- Call a mental health center: There is a direct correlation between America’s homeless crisis and its mental health crisis. At least 25% of the country’s homeless population suffers from serious mental illness, and more than 45% suffer from some mental illness.
- Contact an addiction services center: Just as with mental illness, there is a connection between addiction and homelessness in America. According to the Addiction Center, 38% of homeless people struggle with alcohol dependence and 26% are grappling with drug addiction.
- Get in touch with LGBTQ+ services organizations: The LGBTQ+ community, particularly its young people, are much more likely to become homeless than the rest of the population. They also face unique struggles and challenges both in becoming homeless and in enduring the experience.
- Reach out to a group that specializes in HIV/AIDS: Social stigma, job discrimination, and the sheer cost of HIV/AIDS medication have created a dynamic that makes victims of the disease much more likely to become homeless than the general population. Additionally, homeless individuals are more likely to contract HIV while living on the streets.
- Partner with your local VA to support veterans in need: More than one in ten homeless people are military veterans—that’s about 40,000 homeless vets living on the streets of the country they fought for.
- Partner with religious organizations: Religious organizations do much of the heavy lifting in terms of homeless services. In fact, a 2017 study found that faith-based groups in 11 major U.S. cities provided about 60% of shelter beds on any given night.
- Volunteer with transition programs that help people get back on their feet: This is especially important for young people. About 50% of adolescents transitioning out of juvenile detention or foster care will become homeless within six months.
- Call your local social work agency: Social workers are the troops in the trenches for individuals, children, and families in crisis. Part of their expertise involves pairing prospective volunteers like you with the populations who need your services the most.
- Get in touch with crisis intervention centers: Many homeless people are transitionally—not chronically—homeless as the result of job loss, medical emergencies, house fires, family emergencies, or other short-term crises. They might need your services the most since they’re more likely to be actively looking to return to school or work.
- Give the gift of training: If you’re a cosmetology teacher or you’re affiliated with a school, you might choose to offer education in the craft for free to those who need it most—instead of giving people free haircuts, you might be able to give them careers.
Organizations Already Making a Difference
The many dedicated advocates and organizations that serve the homeless and other populations in crisis are always on the lookout for people willing to help. Here’s a list of groups that you can contact to find out exactly how the services you provide can best help people in need. Some provide cosmetology services to the homeless and other vulnerable groups specifically, and others serve general populations in need.
- Haircuts4Homeless: This organization is made up of a network of stylists who offer a few hours every month to give haircuts to the homeless. To learn how to join an existing team or how to start a new project in your area, just send an email to this registered charity at email@example.com.
- Shear Love International: Shear Love International offers cosmetology training and education to disadvantaged people from all backgrounds. Visit the organization’s volunteer information page to learn how to apply to be a hair services educator, a makeup artistry teacher, a mentor/counselor, or even an English teacher. You’ll also find a handy list of frequently asked questions on the same page.
- Beauty Bus: Beauty Bus is a mobile cosmetology operation that conducts pop-up salons, in-home visits, and other services to people struggling to pay for cosmetology services. They specialize in serving medical patients, rather than the homeless, but the two aren’t unrelated. Medical conditions and medical expenses are among the chief causes of homelessness. Ready to ride with the Beauty Bus? Visit the organization’s volunteer page to learn how to become a beauty professional or a beauty ambassador. The same page also has a list of upcoming volunteer opportunities with information on how to register.
- Have Shears Will Travel: Specific to the greater Houston area, Have Shears Will Travel is a non-profit religious ministry that specializes in providing hairdressing and other cosmetology services to those who can’t afford it or can’t travel to receive it. This non-profit has a “How to Help” page, where you can send them your contact information. Once you do, someone will contact you to find out how you’re best suited to help.
- Dress for Success: This global organization aims to empower women by “providing a network of support, professional attire, and development tools to help women thrive in work and life.” You could help the women who seek assistance from this organization look their professional best while getting back on their feet. If you’re interested, visit the organization’s “Get Involved” page to learn about the seven ways you can help, or check out their “Volunteer” page to see the many different ways you can directly donate your services.
- Sidewalk Salon: “Haircuts for Hope” is the slogan of the Sidewalk Salon, whose volunteers provide cosmetology services to the homeless and other people in need. If you’re a barber, stylist, cosmetology student, or photographer who wants to lend a hand, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and someone from the organization will contact you with further instructions.
- Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services: This organization helps veterans find employment by pairing them with job-seeking organizations and career opportunities. As a cosmetologist, you could contribute by helping veterans look their best when they attend job interviews. There are many ways to lend a hand. On the left side of the page, click on the tabs labeled “Volunteer or Donate” and “Get Involved” to find out more about how you can put your skills to work for America’s struggling vets.
- Homeless Shelter Directory: This directory of homeless shelters in the U.S. provides a helpful map that allows you to find local shelters. Click on your state to find shelters near you that could benefit from your services.
- Coalition for the Homeless: This organization is the oldest direct-service and advocacy organization for the homeless in the country. Visit the “Take Action” page to learn how to join the coalition, to volunteer, or to help in other ways.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness: A nonpartisan organization, the National Alliance to End Homelessness strives to both prevent and end homelessness in the United States. The alliance’s “Help End Homelessness” page has several links where you can learn more about getting involved.
- National Coalition for the Homeless: This national organization consists of community- and faith-based organizations dedicated to ending homelessness. The group’s “Taking Action” page offers information on the many ways you can help, and the “Volunteer” page will show you how to get involved with a local agency in your area.