Artist Uses Mobile Hair Salons to Transform the Lives of America’s Homeless

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Concerns for the homeless often address essentials like food and shelter, but other services, those that perhaps aren’t necessary to survive, but which do increase quality of life, often fall by the wayside.

That’s something that the art project Beauty in Transition, a hair salon like no other, aims to change.

The project coordinates volunteer stylists to travel in what are essentially hair salons on wheels. Those mobile salons visit homeless shelters to offer a free cut and style, plus a makeup application for women.

Jody Wood began the initiative back in 2006, when she was a graduate student in Lawrence, Kansas. Today the project has traveled to Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Reading, Pennsylvania.

Homeless clients served by the project feel that, although it doesn’t change their living situations, it does help them get a boost of confidence. The testimonials given by the project’s homeless clients appear in Wood’s gallery installations as videos.

“It restored my self esteem,” said one of the project’s recipients. “It gave me a little more hope that I could get through this.”

“I can at least appear [as] who I once was,” said another in one of Wood’s video installations.

“It puts some hope there, something other than being inside, somebody’s helping you and making you feel normal,” another said.

It also fills a more practical need. Those who receive haircuts may feel more confident for a job interview or other appointment.

Similar haircuts-for-the-homeless programs have appeared in other cities, albeit without the art project slant to them.

Detroit’s Cass Community Social Services also recently offered haircuts to about 250 homeless adults and children with the help of 200 volunteer stylists from Paul Mitchell Schools and the You First Project, based out of California.

Wood’s project takes a similar approach, but she also acknowledges a dignity that the homeless deserve in her project’s name.

Homelessness is a transition, she explained — it’s a difficult chapter in a person’s life, but it doesn’t define who they are.

“There’s this… feeling of stasis when you’re homeless, waiting for things to happen… waiting for life to start again,” Wood said. “The simplest thing like a hairstyle or a haircut is just that lift to make you feel like your life is moving again.”

Beauty in Transition will move on to Kingston, NY, and continue to explore resources for the homeless in rural areas.

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