Erasing the stigma of homelessness, one haircut at a time

An unassuming blue and white truck lumbers down the block and pulls up in front of a shelter for homeless women in Brooklyn, New York. Its previous life as an ice cream truck has ended, and now the truck has a new life as a mobile hair salon catering to the homeless. Started in 2006 by artist Jody Wood, the project, called Beauty in Transition, has served people in Philadelphia, Denver, and New York City.

"A hair salon is a place to get a really practical need met, but it's also a social space, and it's a place to feel cared for," Wood tells filmmakers from A Blade of Grass, a nonprofit that support socially engaged artists. The organization produced a short documentary, below, about the salon project as part of a series.

Wood recruited volunteer hair stylists from twenty different salons to work in the truck. Over a three-month period in 2014, she visited nine different New York City shelters. She is now raising money to take the project to Kingston, New York.

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"Part of the magic of the experience was just the fact that this service was really unexpected," says Wood. "It was almost like a portal to walk into the back of this truck and be in a salon. It was used to transport people out of their everyday experience."

Wood's project joins a host of mobile services for homeless people, though most are dedicated to more immediate needs such as healthcare and hygiene. In Hartford, Connecticut, a project started this year offers a law office on wheels to homeless youth, run by the Center for Children's Advocacy. By bringing services directly to the homeless, these operations aim to eliminate barriers such as lack of transportation, but also bypass other obstacles that might prevent people without shelter from receiving care.

Medical services in particular might be avoided by some homeless people because of challenges posed by obtaining proof of identity required for health insurance; feeling intimidated by the health care system; or language barriers, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Health clinics on wheels are used throughout the U.S. to reach people on the streets.

Wood is particularly interested in working to bypass the negativity or shame associated with homelessness by bringing her project to people in the community.

"I hope that this project can start to break down the stigmas that keep people who are homeless isolated," she says.

Jody Wood's not the only one who had the idea to give haircuts to the homeless:
Homeless Get Free Haircuts from Local Stylist in Northern California
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