Helping the homeless — a haircut at a time

Anne Donovan is having an old school bus retrofitted as a mobile hair salon with volunteer hairdressers to provide haircuts to the homeless and less fortunate.

'Rolling Barber' hopes to offer test run of free shampoos and cuts in April, and to be on the road in July

Anne Donovan hopes to have a mobile hair salon ready by July. (Anne Donovan )

For years, Anne Donovan couldn't help but notice the homeless shelters and their clients on her walks through the ByWard Market. And though she wanted to do something to help, her job simply didn't afford her the time.

But when her employment situation changed, she felt the time had come to give back.  

"When I would see someone on the street, I would notice that they were in need of extra care," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning last week.

"I just felt the power of a haircut can empower people."

Donovan approached a few shelters with the idea of buying an old school bus, turning it into a mobile hair salon, and offering free shampoos and haircuts to the homeless and anyone else in need.

'Gave me the courage to actually move ahead'

She said staff at homeless shelters told her they try to help clients get job interviews, and that they're not only in need of new clothes, but haircuts, too.

"That's what gave me the courage to actually move ahead with this," Donovan said.

Donovan is not a hairdresser herself, but she had some contacts in the industry and said she got lots of support when she went looking for volunteers.

"Some of our hairdressers are upscale hairdressers, who will be volunteering their time," she said, adding she's also trying to recruit student hairdressers.

'Little ray of hope'

Someone who heard about Donovan's plan donated a school bus, and the plan is to remove the benches and replace them with hairdressing chairs and washing stations.

The bus will be driven to different shelters, which have agreed to allow it to hook up to their water supply.

"After a haircut you can feel like anything is possible. Everything is better. Now, you can take on the world," she said.

Donovan hopes to do a test run in April at Centre 454 on King Edward Avenue, and to have the bus on the road by July.

"I want to give this little ray of hope to some people, and say, 'You can do it,'" she said. 

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning