Reflections Salon owner Ginger Rich kneeled before Christy Gillette and looked her in the eyes.
“I’m totally honored to cut your hair,” Rich said.
Rich complimented the strawberry blonde undertone of Gillette’s damp hair as she combed out the freshly washed strands and suggested a trim to remove the split ends— she did not point out the gray coming in, nor ask how the woman came to live on the streets of Lakeside.
Gillette, like other customers in the shop, had turned up for the fourth annual Haircut For the Homeless event organized by Rich. The event went well beyond offering a trim and a shave to anyone in need.
The bright shop on Maine Avenue was filled with the usual signs of a salon on a bustling Sunday morning: the sudden blast of hairdryers, warm water running in the wash basins, the scent of shampoo, laughter. However, in place of the usual chatter between stylists and clientele, there were gentle conversations initiated by volunteers trying to reach the homeless on a personal level and connect them with local services.
“As a child, I grew up homeless in foster care and was homeless off and on until I was 21. Instead of being sad about the past, I decided to change my journey I was on. I wanted to become a hairstylist and decided I was going to own my own business. Somebody believed in me, just like I want to do for these patrons. It’s my prayer and hope to give hope to the homeless. We’ve come together with resources so they might be able to change their path, change their journey,” Rich said.
Outside the salon, long tables stretched in front of neighboring businesses, lined with food and donations.
Volunteer Josh Owens gestured to the piles of snacks. “We’ve got food, treats, totes, socks, personal hygiene products, dog food, just about everything,” Owens said.
To his right, Volunteer Arlene McClendon asked a homeless gentleman about his size in jeans, then poked through the neatly categorized piles of donated clothing to help find him a clean pair of pants.
She said the event is like nothing else in the community.
“When I heard about this, I thought: I’m on it. This is amazing. I am so honored to be a part of this today,” McClendon said.
McAlister Outreach Manager Bradley Russell measured attendees with a glance, recognizing some and introducing himself anew to others. “Some people come up because I get out into the community and they’ve met me. I’ve had a few ask: ‘If I were to get into treatment, how long would it take,’ and I’m always honest with them. We need to have real conversations,” Russell said.
To his left, county of San Diego Health and Human Services Licensed Mental Health Clinician Joann Scott had prominently placed a bowl of lavender trimmings tied with purple bows, a gentle lure for anyone needing a reason to initiate a conversation about the stacks of flyers printed with resources laid out on the table.
“I grow lavender at home and started bringing it to different work events because people walk over and ask about it. It gets the conversation going,” Smith said.
Lead Case Manager at McAllister Institute Claudia Fallow was less subtle in her outspoken frustration. Her voice took on a feisty yet maternal tone as she glanced past Volunteer Jamie Distefano pouring barbicide into a large pan used for disinfecting salon tools. She gestured to Scott Powers smiling with his eyes closed, relaxing as Kendall Sandoval professionally trimmed his hair.
“People get so hopeless. We need more affordable housing, more shower programs, safe parking programs. Let’s say you get a chance to shower once a month— how inhumane is that? How are you going to go through life like that or make a better life for yourself? You can’t,” Fallow said.
Rich chimed in:
“Well, one person today already talked to me about going to detox while I cut their hair and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have that conversation,” Rich said.
Back outside, Torrey Pines Church and Surf Ministry Outreach Instructor Denise Graham sat in an olive green shirt printed with ‘Semper Fi’ on its back, a deliberate yet unspoken way to inform anyone walking up to the tables that she has experience with the military. Graham flashed a bright smile and leaned in as she warmly chatted about the outreach program she works with in an effort to address addiction and depression.
“We help military operators who are transitioning by teaching them how to surf. It isn’t really about the surfing, of course, it’s about the connection, creating a community of support for those who are on the edge. There’s no conditions to showing up— active duty, retirees, recently separated from the military— it doesn’t matter,” Graham said.
Russell wandered over, consistently interested in getting to know everyone in the community including fellow volunteers. He smiled and jutted his chin out in acknowledgement of Bria McClain, seated with information on hand from the Family Health Centers of San Diego.
“This lady is amazing, do you know she will give rides to people just so they can get to a doctor’s appointment?” Russell asked.
Rich took a break from her chair to circle through the volunteers outside, then took a breather in the doorway of the shop, absorbing the result of her outreach. She said that she was humbled by everyone wanting to help pull off the event, but wishes the community would do more.
“We need more events like this, public events, getting people involved. Not only are the homeless being touched but the volunteers as well. I want people to ask themselves what they can do to improve their community,” Rich said.