For those who call Canada’s poorest urban neighbourhood home, the simplest gesture of generosity from others can mean the world to those with virtually nothing.
And when faced with impoverished conditions amid a seemingly bleak future, residents of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side can easily descend into the depths of despair, further robbing them of their dignity in the process.
Enter Street Thug Barbers, the collective of locally-based hairstylists: Cameron Sterling, Ross Wilson and Josh Malcolm. The three like-minded and caring individuals regularly donate their time and talents to the downtrodden of the area by giving free haircuts to those who can ill afford such a luxury.
“Eleven months ago the three of us joined together,” explains Sterling; a stylist with Bambu Salon in False Creek where he works alongside Malcolm; who along with fellow Street Thugger, Wilson teach the art of styling at Suki’s Salons around Vancouver.
“I had met Ross last August a couple of weeks after he’d started doing cuts on the DTES,” he says.
“After chatting we realized that, throughout our lives, we’d both battled with drugs/alcohol and everything that comes along with that. I felt that, with our similar stories and our passion for people, we could really do something. Josh and I immediately teamed up with him the following Sunday and we haven’t missed one since.”
With the help of generous benefactors supplying necessary products, Street Thug Barbers along with additional stylists from other organizations continue to provide their talents at no charge.
Thus far, they have given well over 6000 free haircuts. And while the generosity is genuine and sincere, gaining trust among some of the recipients took a bit longer in certain cases.
“The only skepticism we felt at the beginning was justified,” adds Sterling.
“A lot of the people we have come to know have had empty promises thrown at them constantly, so we knew right away this wasn’t going to be something we’d just do in passing. We wanted to make a promise and keep it and we’ve definitely noticed a level of trust growing between us as each week passes and they see us. Our friends know we are coming every week to give them a new look and a good conversation – with no strings attached.”
Clearly, there are mutual benefits on both sides of the chair; those to whom Street Thug Barbers’ generosity is aimed, and conversely, the sheer joy the stylists receive from helping those without.
“We’ve been fortunate enough this year to see a few of our new friends get clean off addictions as well as find a new path in life either in jobs or volunteer work,” says Sterling.
“I believe the emotions and rewards go both ways when we get to be a part of a community and see smiles on our Downtown East Side.”
Street Thug Barbers have created a GoFundMe account allowing them to further spread their acts of kindness and generosity throughout the community.
As for the future of where this movement goes?
“We can take it in so many directions and are excited for the future,” he says, “but for now we’ll just keep talking, laughing, and hugging our way through the DTES, one haircut at a time. Throughout the summer, we’ll mainly be at Oppenheimer Park on Powell Street every Sunday from 10:00am until 1:00pm.”
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