In April of 2017, on his 36th birthday, Roger Lopez – a barber at Zeus' Barbershop on South Congress – was feeling down. His solution? Go help somebody else.
"Why expect a blessing? Why expect a gift? I thought, I'm gonna go give somebody else a gift," he says. "I'm gonna go give somebody a free haircut."
So Lopez brought his barber kit and a chair to the corner of E. Seventh Street and N. I-35, underneath the shade of the overpass, and gave 22 free haircuts – one to any homeless person who wanted one. Just over a year later, he's still there once per month (every last Sunday starting at 10am), usually accompanied by a group of up to six volunteers – some barbers, some helping with security – who call themselves H4H, or Haircuts for Homeless. "Snapshot" joined the participants on Aug. 26 to document and gather insights on the program, which to date has donated 325 free haircuts to Austin's homeless population.
H4H depends on volunteers – sometimes it's just Lopez (middle), longtime friend Teresa Miller (left, a nurse at the nearby CommUnityCare clinic, who keeps track of sign-ups), and Carolina Scogin of Finley's Barber Shop (right): "It's not a paid position. Nobody's clocking in, no badges, no government funding," Lopez says. "It's got a lot of great spiritual benefits, [but] if a volunteer was for whatever reason busy with family, home, or work, I don't take that as something personal."
Scogin emigrated from Venezuela in 1999 without any family or resources and sees her volunteer time as paying it forward for those who helped her: "I thought, man, those people probably are in the same situation as I was when I came here. These people ... they're humans, and they don't have anything. A haircut does change people, changes people's hearts. It's me saying, 'Everything is going to be OK.'"
Miller (middle) is motivated by her recently deceased uncle's stint among the homeless at the ARCH, while Rob Nance (right), who worked his first security shift Sunday, says the importance of volunteering is something ingrained since childhood: "A haircut can change a man's day, that's what my daddy always used to tell me," he says. "To see somebody uplifted just by that is just enough for me."
Lopez's dedication stems from experience living "at the mercy of the streets": "I know what it's like to be without a single friend, a single family member, being addicted to drugs, not being able to control your addiction," he says, adding that he draws from principles of anonymous recovery programs. "Indirectly, I hope I'm saying, 'I was homeless at one point in my life, and it's been a long time since I had to do that, so there's hope. You can get out of it. You don't have to stay in that cycle forever.'"
A year-plus on, what H4H needs most is more volunteers, and not necessarily barbers: "The more volunteers, the better, and everyone's welcome – just bring yourself," Lopez says. "You don't gotta bring bottles, you don't gotta bring sandwiches, you don't gotta be a barber or bring socks or anything like that. Just be out here for support. Stand around, joke around as if it was a barbershop."
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