Having a haircut is often an emotional experience for a long-time homeless person. When life is about surviving the elements, having your hair washed and styled can have a benefit to your spirit which far outweighs how you look in the salon mirror.
Cork salon owner Joseph Byrne, who recently spent a day cutting hair for the homeless, says he has seen people get visibly upset during the cutting process. Many times they are living a life devoid of touch.
“I had an experience with a man last year where he got very emotional because he got his hair shampooed. It wasn’t the fact that he was getting his hair cut. It was the physical contact. He was saying, ‘I haven’t had this for so long.’ The warmth of the place and the girl washing his hair. I didn’t comprehend all that before.”
Joseph, owner of Joseph’s Hair Salon, says ultimately in life, we all crave “a bit of TLC”. “When you are doing their hair it is therapeutic. I am chatting away. People often tell their story. I get lost with them. They get lost with me and we forget everything for 20 to 25 minutes. It is important for me that people feel safe.”
Joseph and his staff at his salon on Glasheen Rd in Cork spent a day cutting hair for homeless people and vulnerable women and children impacted by domestic violence. Dozens of people had their hair styled.
Joseph insists that homelessness does not necessarily mean people on the streets. To him the term also applies to individuals in emergency accommodation.
“I was in a place recently where they had three double bunk beds in a tiny room and there was a communal shower. They are people without a home. They might have a roof over their head but they don’t have a home.”
Mr Byrne says one of the great pleasures of the day involves cutting hair for women who are in vulnerable situations. They aren’t getting their hair styled on a regular basis themselves and are instead ploughing their scant resources into their kids. He derives great satisfaction from pampering these women.
However, he admits he has to bury his feelings of sorrow when he is cutting the hair of youngsters who have been through tough times.
Joseph says it’s important to emphasise that the day wasn’t a charity event.
“So what I normally do is I have people in during the year but the paying customers wouldn’t know. Even sometimes the staff wouldn’t know that people aren’t paying because I give out vouchers. We have communion kids in and so on."
There was a festive environment at the salon with the six staff members giving out selection boxes to people who presented for a haircut. Flannery’s bar across the road also provided food and drink completely free of charge.
Among those who arrived at the salon for a haircut was High Hopes choir member and local rapper Jimmy B. Jimmy B (Jimmy O’Brien) led the impromptu Christmas “sing-song” while treating staff and clients to his own original composition.
Jimmy has been heavily involved in the choir doing “a load of gigs” in recent years.
“We were in Brussels. We were in Lourdes. We were nearly all over the world. We were in the Áras. I am forever meeting that man (President Michael D Higgins.) Our country is in good hands with him. We have new members in the choir all the time. I am going strong looking forward to the Christmas.”
Jimmy paid tribute to Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners who not only helps the homeless but who has, on occasion, been known to assist him in writing a song.
He says life is on an upward curve for him and jokes that he is becoming a bit of a local celebrity.
“I was outside Electric (bar, on South Mall) with the choir one day and somehow ended up on Neil Prendeville! It’s all good. It’s positive.”
Meanwhile, staff at the salon will continue to collect items for the homeless and people in domestic violence situations in the coming weeks.
Joseph has appealed to members of the public to hand in donations to his salon in Glasheen. “It is basic things like toothpaste and toothbrushes.
“If someone leaves a domestic violence situation, they have nothing. They often don’t even have pyjamas. We will take items up to Christmas and beyond. We just want to help. My staff here are great and the public are amazing.”