Robert Hall looked like a celebrity Monday as he sat on a barber’s chair near the front door of Phenomenon Perfection Hair Studio.
A handful of cell phones recorded every snip and clip. A pair of reporters was also at the Olney shop to document the occasion: the first free haircut of the day.
“It makes me feel good about myself,” said Hall, as the sides and back of his balding scalp were clipped close to his head. “Makes me feel like a man.”
Hall – and the rest of the men waiting – didn’t have to pay, thanks to a chance encounter and the goodwill of two barbers that, until recently, were complete strangers.
Earlier this year, a homeless man on the street asked Brennon Jones for money. He had plenty in his wallet, but only lifted a pair of singles from it to hand over.
Guilt washed over him as he walked away.
“I could have gave more,” said Jones. “It wasn’t enough.”
Not long afterwards, he was hauling his scissors and clippers to Center City to start giving haircuts to homeless men on the street – his way of giving more.
“A lot of times we just notice them, but we don’t give them enough love, show them enough respect as people. We just look at them and keep going. We pass by them all the time and we don’t acknowledge that they’re even there,” said Jones, a barber for more than a decade.
The mission resonated with fellow barber Sean Johnson, who caught a glimpse of Jones one afternoon as he chatted on the phone near City Hall.
The pair’s conversation that day blossomed into a friendship that recently led to Johnson gifting an empty storefront barbershop in North Philly to Jones so he could continue his work inside.
The story went viral online — no surprise to Johnson.
“When you wake up out of the bed in the morning, first thing you do before you walk out of the door is look in the mirror and look at ourselves. A haircut can start off a great day. A bad haircut can end a day,” said Johnson Monday as he helped clear a line of waiting customers.
There’s also a very practical benefit to giving homeless people a haircut: it could potentially help them resolve their situation.
“People are often trying to find their way back to stability, so they’re going in and interviewing and trying to get a job. So looking presentable is just another way of helping them along that path,” said Michael Dahl, executive director of Broad Street Ministry, an organization that provides a variety of homeless services.
Jones’ mission, meanwhile, is to change people’s perceptions of homeless people.
“I’m hoping people see me as a beacon of light. If they can’t personally identify with it, just flash back to if it was them and decide to get involved. The more hands on deck, the more we can do. The more people we are able to bless, the better the world will be.”