'It just takes 1 person to believe in you': Moose Jaw barber connects with homeless
Jason Gauthier reaches out to city's homeless 1 haircut at a time, knowing what it's like on the street
Jason Gauthier has a lot of energy.
It seems to rub off a little on everyone he meets — contagious sunshine radiating from his jokes, bouncing off hundreds of his Facebook Live viewers, ricocheting back off an animated quip and then landing on his eager, waiting clients.
He jokes that it's "JDHD." The 43-year-old is open about the fact that he lives with ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — and anxiety. He is also open about his difficult past.
Gauthier said he has experienced life as an addict, convict and homeless person, and it motivates his outreach work, most of which he conducts from his barber's chair.
"I am telling them my story. I'm getting vulnerable, so they feel like they can get vulnerable. Trust happens," Gauthier said.
He says he was at his lowest when he was addicted and homeless and that version of himself was a person who was seen as a lost cause. But he remembers the kindness of strangers during that time.
"Someone believed in me. And it just takes one person to believe in you, sometimes, and that's it," he said.
Gauthier recalled an elderly woman giving him a little money for food and how a homeless advocate defended him as a "human being" to frustrated health-care workers. It all made a difference, he says.
Now, he's the one sharing kindness.
Gauthier moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., from Calgary earlier this summer. The primary reason for the switch was to be closer to his teenage son.
But while he was at it, he decided to open StraightEdgeBarber Shave Parlour.
The transitional period follows some hard times in Gauthier's personal life, including a breakup. But this time, he decided to channel his energy for good.
For him, that meant doing what he does best — cutting hair — for people who are homeless, just as he once was.
He said he began the work this summer while he was still living in Alberta. Gauthier was cutting an older gentleman's hair and asking him what he planned to do that day, with the man responding that he was going to visit a soup kitchen.
"And I said, 'Well, you can eat here, man!' And he digs into his pocket and pulls out a toonie, and I'm like, 'No no no.' He goes, 'You're a good barber,' and that's when I cried."
Gauthier has been cutting the hair of homeless people since.
Connecting 1 cut at a time
On the day CBC Saskatchewan visited his shop, there was a steady stream of people lined up for his barber's chair.
The crowd was diverse and included children getting back-to-school cuts, a homeless man and the city's mayor.
In a few short weeks, Gauthier has created connections, leaving a promising wake of positivity.
His business is located around the corner from Moose Jaw's Riverside Mission, a place where he began hanging out once he moved to the city.
It's where he met Mark Kelly, a former drug dealer who is trying to put his life back together while living at the shelter.
"A lot of the people down there are hurting. They don't have a lot. They don't have anything," said Kelly.
"They look pretty rough, and when you can take a guy that looked pretty rough and clean him up a little bit, who knows what that is going to do for him the next day?" he said, noting opportunities may open up for them.
"And it wouldn't be there unless Jay came down and did that for them."
Now, Kelly comes to hang out with Gauthier at his shop. On the day CBC stopped by, he bumped into Moose Jaw Mayor Fraser Tolmie at the shop.
"Jay gets it and I think you get it too," Kelly told Mayor Tolmie as the pair shook hands.
Tolmie, who was elected in 2016, said he sees the work Gauthier is putting in and believes it's an important part of improving the city.
"You know, it's not always governments coming up with solutions. As you can see, Jason's come in here and said, 'I want to do some good work.' And he's taken his talents and been able to fill that void. And I think that's an important role," the mayor said.
"You don't ignore that. You recognize that and say, 'He's got some input.'"
Tolmie told CBC he planned to sit down to talk with Gauthier about more of his ideas.
For Gauthier's part, he has big dreams for the change he can make — from creating a tiny-home project to house homeless people to expanding his outreach work to other Prairie cities.
He has new, loyal supporters who want to help.
"I told him when he goes down to Regina, I'm going there with him," Kelly said.
"Because when he's cutting hair, I can be down there talking to guys about their addictions, about changing their lives around, about their problems. Just someone to listen to. It's a good thing."
For now, the change Gauthier's creating starts in his barber's chair.
On Monday, Sept. 3 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. CST, he will be at Riverside Mission in Moose Jaw offering free haircuts. Gauthier invites other barbers and stylists to join him if they want to help.