A London hairdresser gives free haircuts to homeless people and has created a selfless, encouraging social media movement off the back of it.
Joshua Coombes has been heading out and about with his scissors for years now, offering to give those living on the streets a brand new look with a fresh trim.
Like any good hairdresser, the 31-year-old gets chatting with his customers, listening to their thoughts, feelings and stories. The only difference is, the streets are his salon.
If you ask anyone about the issue of homelessness, I’m sure they’ll agree it’s a huge problem. Everyone’s aware there’s countless people living on the streets, but Joshua’s movement isn’t so much about raising awareness; it’s about raising compassion.
After he’s finished cutting someone’s hair, the hairdresser asks if he can share their story on Instagram using the hashtag ‘Do Something For Nothing’.
Check out an example of one man’s story below:
This is Chris.
He was in a bad way when I first met him. A friend of his had passed away just a few weeks before… Sadly, his friend was one of 50 homeless people who died on streets in Greater Manchester last year.
Chris was in the army for years. He spoke a bit about that. “Things have changed a lot since then… I suffered with PTSD for a while afterwards. I didn’t know what to do with myself when that period of time ended. Well, anyway…here I am.”
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I just arrived in Manchester this evening for @lightnoiseart exhibition tomorrow evening and I’ve been thinking about the last time I was here. This is Chris. He was in a bad way when I first met him. A friend of his had passed away just a few weeks before… Sadly, his friend was one of 50 homeless people who died on streets in Greater Manchester last year. Chris was in the army for years. He spoke a bit about that. “Things have changed a lot since then… I suffered with PTSD for a while afterwards. I didn’t know what to do with myself when that period of time ended. Well, anyway…here I am. I cut Chris’s hair in an alleyway away from the noise of the city centre nearby. It was nice to share those moments together before he had to run on to an appointment. Before we left, I asked Chris his message: “Have a little bit of love..spread it as much as you can…do you know what I mean? We’re all in this together. We all came into this world the same way…we’ll all go out the same way. We all end up in the same sized fucking box.”. I’d love to see anyone in Manchester at our event tomorrow. Free entry. All welcome. 6pm – 9pm at @theyard_mcr (Link in bio) It’s important to find new ways of telling the story of people like Chris to create a change. I believe in art and expression to do so. #DoSomethingForNothing
By sharing the stories of homeless people, Joshua highlights the fact that, like all humans, they have a history, a story which led them to the places they are today.
Speaking about the movement, the 31-year-old told UNILAD:
For me it’s not about whether someone’s deserving or undeserving. We’re all human, we all make mistakes.
It’s about trying to get rid of that thick layer of stigma that surrounds people who live on the streets in most cities and painting it literally in a new colour, which is not just statistics.
The Do Something For Nothing (DSFN) movement encourages people to realise there is no ‘us and them’ when it comes to people living on the streets, and that a moment of compassion can go a long way.
Although the hairdresser often completely transforms his customers by giving them a new look, he explained how the movement is not so much about the haircuts, but about the time he spends chatting with those who are often completely ignored.
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Whilst in Paris recently, I walked back to the same street where I once visited my late friend, Cedric. I always go back to this spot when I’m in the city. One street away from where he used to sleep, I met Florin. Florin came to Paris from Romania late last year. He’s worked in construction jobs for most of his life, but recently, steady employment became difficult, so he left for job opportunities elsewhere. He only spoke a small amount of English. But thankfully, one of Jaz’s (@theworldwidetribe) good friends, Joanna, is Romanian, so she help us communicate over the phone. When Florin came to Paris, things took an unexpected turn… He experienced a stroke that left him in hospital for a week. When he woke, Florin no longer had his passport or phone with him and had no memory of what happened… Without his documents, He had no way to travel back home so began sleeping on the streets… When we met Florin, he was waiting for an appointment with the Embassy of Romania and was in limbo for the foreseeable. Florin told us what makes him happy in life. It was was so good to meet that day. His warmth really shone through as we spent more time together. So much so that he insisted that we visit him in Romania when he manages to get back there. One realistic goal we can all have is to be more aware and present for those around us who might feel isolated. I saw the difference it made in Florin that someone noticed him and listened. Nothing should get in the way of the connection you can make with another human being and the potential is has to help them and, in turn, help yourself. #DoSomethingForNothing
These are people who I see myself in, and as I started to tell these stories to others I realised how much it impacted, and how many people wanted to know more about the people I was meeting.
The hashtag was DSFN because it’s not really about haircuts for homeless as such, it’s more about the time and conversation that I share with someone.
They’re the moments that are most important to all of us really, at the end of the day they’re what we share with one another.
Some people I go back and visit, and sometimes I just meet them that one time, but for me each of those is as important as the other, whether it ends with big smiles or just a nod of appreciation.
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Yesterday, I ran into Mathew again. We first met in the summer of 2017 in a park not far from this spot, in Central London. Mathew’s been away for a while since we last saw one another. He had his head down but I recognised him. Mathew – “Yeh, I remember – You cut my hair! And for my friend Luke also. It was summer wasn’t it..? I haven’t seen Luke for ages. We were really close. I miss him. He just disappeared one day about a year ago and I have no idea where he is… I find it difficult to get close to people. There’s nobody in particular that I reach out speak with. Things are up and down. Some days are worse than others. The small things that happen each day can help though… Like, I know I’m not all that approachable. I’ve never been very confident socially. But, when people do take the time to have a conversation, it means something. Everyone needs different things in their life. But having someone to listen to you is important for everybody.” #DoSomethingForNothing
Joshua went on to explain how the movement evolved, saying:
The more I carried on doing it I saw other people join in, and it just kind of progressed. Now this is all I do, and each week it’s about finding new ways to tell those stories and get other people involved.
A lot of people are compassionate towards homelessness, but it’s all about how we can make the idea more accessible to everyone.
As Do Something For Nothing continued to grow, last year Joshua and longtime friend and artist Jamie decided to find another way to spread the stories of homeless people.
The pair took a trip to Skid Row in Los Angeles, one of the most densely populated areas of the US for homelessness. As Joshua gave haircuts, Jamie would take photos and later paint portraits of those they had spent time with.
They rented a gallery space and displayed the artwork in a show called Light and Noise, in the hopes of building a bridge between the homeless and visitors from other parts of LA.
Discussing the show, Joshua said:
It was called Light and Noise because we believe we can all shine a light and make some noise. Even if we don’t know the solution I think it’s okay to be an amplifier.
We try to give isolated people more importance.
The pair took the show to London, and later the hairdresser partnered with TOMS as part of the company’s Stand For Tomorrow campaign. Together, they organised four more Light and Noise events, in Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin.
Joshua’s role as a changemaker with TOMS, the original One for One brand, has been forged in parallel with the evolution of the brand’s giving model. The company will now be partnering with changemakers and local organisations on projects with local impact, alongside their existing One for One programmes.
In association with Light and Noise’s Manchester show, TOMS pledged to make a financial contribution to homeless charity Centrepoint, to fund the expansion of the charity’s engagement model in Manchester to help bridge the gap between the learning and training programmes available to young people, and their current levels of participation in those programmes.
Funding the opportunity marks one of the most significant changes in Centrepoint’s ability to support homeless young people.
Speaking about the collaboration with TOMS, Joshua said:
It has been fantastic working alongside a brand like TOMS that actively incites social change. We have worked so closely to bring about further awareness of the problem of homelessness in our cities – an issue I’m very passionate about and hope to improve through giving greater visibility to the mainstream.
We can all positively impact the world – even with something as small as a haircut.
Each Light and Noise show is centered around the host location, featuring the work of local artists and collaborating with a charity based in that city, such as Centrepoint. However, the constant throughout the four events will be Jamie’s artwork; 12 portraits depicting three people from each of the four cities.
Joshua explained the 12 prints are vital as they ‘give us this realisation that this is happening in every city’.
Hopefully people will go away with a new perception of the people they’re seeing on the streets.
Discussing the success of the movement, the hairdresser said:
We don’t know how to eradicate homelessness over night, but the way people engage with this is amazing.
I believe that it’s a movement which gives more people a chance to do things in their community, things they would have otherwise thought a charity would take care of.
I’m completely collaborative on what I’m doing, there’s no helm to DSFN. It’s as much yours as it is mine.
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I’ll never stop opening my heart to new people… A stranger who became a brother to me. Cedric died last year, aged 45. I’m forever grateful for the connection we shared. I first met Cedric in Paris in 2017. At the time, he’d been sleeping on the street for three years. He had a handwritten sign – ‘Vote for me in 2020’ – As soon as I said hello, a big smile appeared. An hour later, I’m handing Cedric the mirror to see his new hairdo. We hung out all day there, listening to punk music and swapping stories. Here’s some of Cedric’s words – “I lived in London for some years with my girlfriend. I remember the carnivals so well, I loved my time there. I wanted to stay in London, but when my girlfriend and I broke up, I came back to Paris. That’s when things went downhill… I had a job at a library. It didn’t pay much but I enjoyed it. One day, I found out the library was closing. We lost our jobs. The rent on my place had already gone up. I started drinking more. I can see now I was depressed…I stopped caring. It wasn’t long before I spent my first night outside. A few months later, I visited Cedric again. After a big hug, I noticed Cedric had a black eye – "There’s so many good people in the day, but at night it can change…There's a bar over there that stays open really late. There was a fight with two men and a woman. It's my fault for saying something, when I did, I got punched.” Cedric had a meeting for some help to get into a room a few days prior. He attended but didn't hear back – "I'm trying and always listening for places, it's not easy. Any weeks with a step forward usually comes with more steps back. I never planned to be here…I hope one day there is another chapter. The third time I visited was different. A mural, painted by the amazing @christianguemy for a beautiful soul, no longer with us. I'm going to continue to make people visible the best I can. I know Cédric would have liked that he played a big part in giving others light also. Making mistakes is human. I don’t forget that. I've seen how love can change people. Listen to The Clash and keep dancing my brother. #DoSomethingForNothing
Do Something For Nothing and Light and Noise are both incredibly inspiring. They allow the faces of those who often go unnoticed to be projected and make a point that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to people living on the streets.
The movement is something everyone could stand to get involved in; we can all do something for nothing and spread some compassion.
If you need support or advice about housing, contact the Shelter helpline on 0808 800 4444, or visit their website.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.