Haircuts for the homeless . . . A story that will make you thank God for young men like Josh Coombes

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BEFORE and AFTER: One of Josh Coombes' clients after his street makeover

There’s more to showing you care for your fellow man than tipping a few coins in his begging bowl, as JULIAN COLE found out

SO there I was, skimming the headlines, when something stopped me in my tracks: one of those stories that makes you feel better about the world, even as your inner cynic raises a heckle.

If you go onto the BBC website, you will find a short film and report about a 29-year-old hairdresser from London. Josh Coombes cuts a dash with his neat beard and flat cap (how did the old Yorkshire man’s favoured headgear suddenly become so trendy?) and looks very much the modern man about town.

The sort who probably likes expensive coffees and more expensive craft beers. Almost a hipster but not quite as his beard is too tamed for that.

Coombes carries on his back a rucksack filled with his hairdressing equipment. As he walks about the streets of London, he keeps an eye out for people who might need a haircut. This is not a scissors scam or anything so mean and he doesn’t push into their hands a leaflet offering ten per cent off or whatever.

No, his haircuts are free and he offers them to homeless people. Coombes has been doing this for a while and posts photographs of his clients on Instagram. His before and after pictures are lovely and spirit-lifting. In one frame his clients look hunched and haunted, their hair a dirtied tangle; in the next they are smiling and sporting a natty haircut. The men have often had a shave, too.

There is something moving about these pictures. You know how better people feel after a visit to the hairdressers (even a man who only needs a quick buzz with a number two razor). Well these pictures take that feeling and amplify it many times. Have you ever even wondered how or where homeless people get their hair cut? Well, I confess I hadn’t. Mostly, perhaps, they don’t. A good haircut – and Josh Coombes seems to be talented with his scissors and razors – restores self-esteem and makes a person feel better about themselves.

Last November a story on the Mail Online website featured Josh offering haircuts to homeless people in his native Exeter in Devon. That report said he had the idea after seeing a similar operation on a trip to New York. Now he seems to have moved to London and continued his kind-hearted deeds.

Most of us walk by homeless people without a glance or we drop a coin into their hands if we are touched by fleeting kindness. Few of us would stop and do something so personal and intimate as to give them a haircut.

This uplifting short video on the BBC website shows his homeless clients looking quite restored. A haircut alone won’t solve whatever problems they have, but it will make them feel better about themselves. And maybe that will be a start.

Some of Josh’s clients are seen smiling shyly as they head off. One woman, who has lived on the streets since she was twelve, looks well chuffed. She is 36 and looks well into her sixties, but she clearly enjoyed the attention and her new look.

According to the BBC website, the haircuts are “part of a campaign by Josh and friends Matt Sprankle and Dave Burt which is using the hashtag #DoSomethingforNothing to encourage people to help others anyway they can”.

Well good on them and shame on those of us who don’t do such things. Josh is too kind or polite to mention lice or uncleanliness, both of which he must encounter. Perhaps that modish flat-cap of his is a form of defence.

Will the homeless always be with us, haunting the edge of our lives? Perhaps they will, and maybe their problems cannot be solved, but lots of good work goes into trying.

Sleeping rough. . . The people Josh Coombes helps with a haircut
Sleeping rough. . . The people Josh Coombes helps with a haircut

There are homeless people in my home city of York, as everywhere else, and the other day at home we were discussing the problem in King’s Square, where the homeless congregate outside shops, potentially harming business and putting off the tourists.

They sit there getting drunk and there have been reports of needles used for drugs in the area . Many people will feel cross about that, and who can blame them?

But Josh Coombes shows a different way and reminds us that homeless people are just that. People. And people whose problems are more visible and more socially inconvenient than those most of us have.

I cannot cut hair and don’t know what services I could provide to the homeless. Unless they wanted to learn how to write a blog. . .

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