For most people, getting a haircut is a chance to relax, get pampered for a while and walk away feeling fresh with a new colour or style. But for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage, access to hairdressing services isn’t always possible.
When I was growing up, we had a family member who was experiencing homelessness. Now, whenever I see someone at-risk or in need, I think back to my relative and how I would want someone to have treated him – with respect, kindness and dignity.
This is one of the core reasons I founded Short Back & Sidewalks (SBSW) in early 2015. We had humble beginnings – a team of three volunteers offering free haircuts to vulnerable community members from a local carpark in the Western Australian suburb of Northbridge.
"Building positive connections can help community members experiencing homelessness and disadvantage find their sense of self."
Now, SBSW works with more than 150 volunteers through community outreach programs across Australia to create meaningful connections with clients while providing professional haircutting services.
We work on-site with service providers such as St Vincent de Paul, in spaces that are familiar and safe for the people who use our services. We support a range of people experiencing disadvantage, including women with lived experience of family and domestic violence, youth at-risk, remote Indigenous communities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people sleeping rough or in insecure housing.
Haircutting can be a very empowering experience for people who may be missing a human connection in their lives. It gives the people who use our services the time and space to slow down and have a genuine conversation, to feel seen and heard – something they may not get a lot of in their in their day-to-day lives.
If the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has taught people one thing, it’s that social connection and spending time together is key to feeling part of a community. In delivering our services, SBSW is ensuring that more members across our community get to experience positive connections and feel like part of the community.
Operating our organisation throughout the pandemic and various lockdowns across Australia has of course been difficult, but we have spent that time focusing on increasing our recruitment and training so when restrictions lift and we can provide services, we have a bigger and better team of volunteers on the ground.
Additionally, we have focused on building new partnerships with other organisations such as HoMie, Orange Sky Laundry and Sustainable Salons and discovering new, digital ways to connect with our volunteers.
We use social media to share our story and connect with people who may be interested in getting involved. Our volunteers, who on average provide around two hours of their time each month, say not only are they proud to contribute positively to the mental wellbeing of the people who use our services, but they also experience positive mental health impacts themselves from being involved.
I often get told that we are very well run considering everyone involved is volunteering their time and skills.
A lot of strategic planning takes place from our end to map out short and long-term objectives and goals such as being able to employ paid operational staff, grow our partnerships and eventually being able to explore training or apprenticeship opportunities for the people who use our services through new program development.
While there’s some way to go, we are confident we will be able to reach our goals.
For me personally, I always want to do more to help – we can always do more. I set up SBSW to help as many people as possible, and growing SBSW as an organisation is key to achieving this. I’m proud of the positive milestones we’ve achieved, and I’m excited for those to come.
We started as a couple of mates with a vague plan to help people. To see where we are now, and how we can grow in the future, leaves me with hope for our community.