• December 9, 2022

Free haircuts to the homeless service locks in $400,000 in Labor’s federal budget

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Support and recognition have been a long time coming for Craig Hollywood and his team, who first started a service offering free haircuts to the homeless eight years ago.

Now, thanks to a federal government boost of $350,000, announced in Tuesday’s budget, his nonprofit Short Back & Sidewalksis gearing up to take its services to a whole new level.

“A haircut is pretty far down on the list [of priorities] for a lot of these people who are more concerned about food, shelter,” Hollywood said.

“A lot of these people that we meet might be going for a job [or] they might be going for an interview in regards to permanent housing, so our piece in that very complex puzzle is … to provide an opportunity for them to feel their best in that particular moment.”

While sitting in the barber’s chair and having a yarn back in 2015, Hollywood was first struck with the idea to launch a service offering free haircuts to people experiencing homelessness. He previously lost a family member who lived on the streets and it was that loss that sparked the “fire of empathy” in his heart.

“Every time I see someone who experiences homelessness I think of them, so that’s where it all comes from for me,” he said.

As a civil engineer by trade with no hairdressing experience, it was a team effort for Hollywood to get the service up and running and turn his idea into a reality.

Eight years ago he gathered a few mates who worked in barbering and hairdressing, went to a car park in Perth armed with supplies and a few milk crates and “sat down, started a few conversations [and] gave some haircuts”.

Now, the nonprofit has grown to a size Hollywood “absolutely did not expect”, with about 350 volunteers across Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Using the federal government funding, Short Back & Sidewalks will now be able to hire its first paid employee and put together a business strategy, working towards its goal of 15,000 free haircuts a year by 2025. Just a few months ago, they delivered their 7,000th free haircut since that day eight years ago in the car park.

While the simple act of a haircut is beneficial on its own – giving people a renewed sense of dignity and pride in their appearance – Hollywood says it represents so much more.

“In a post-pandemic environment, I think we can all agree that connection is something that we’ve completely lost,” he said.

“For people who are street-present it’s even more apparent, and for people who were already feeling forgotten about it’s just been compounded.”

Hollywood said the face of homelessness in Australia had changed in just a few years.

“A lot of our hairdressers and barbers will be sitting and cutting the hair of people who, five years ago, had really successful businesses,” he said.

“We’re actually dealing with and addressing one of the most critical societal issues that there actually is.

“If the service that we’re doing is able to improve the mental health and wellbeing of these people who are street-present and [give] them that added boost they need to potentially activate a full-time job [and] permanent accommodation, then that’s the role we play.”

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