It hasn’t been easy to work or own a nail or hair salon during the pandemic. Personal care services were among the industries under some of the most strict lockdown orders over the past year, despite little data showing they posed a high risk for spreading Covid-19. Even so, the industry’s busy season came and went, lockdown restrictions firmly in place.
Now, such businesses are starting to reopen as more residents get vaccinated and California health officials gradually unlock sectors of the state’s economy. And with that new-found freedom, one San Jose barbershop this week started helping people in need. On Wednesday, The Barbers Inc. set up an outdoor salon for residents at Sunnyvale’s Travel Inn to give the once unhoused residents placed in the motel temporarily.
“We need to start doing more for our community, especially right now, when people are rarely getting their feet wet coming back from the pandemic,” Master Barber Anthony Ledesma told San Jose Inside.
The Travel Inn in late February became home to more than 20 homeless residents that had previously been staying in Sunnyvale’s Fair Oaks Park. They were relocated to the motel, despite county and federal guidance not to move homeless residents during the pandemic, because of a massive construction project that made the public park unsafe for the unhoused residents.
For many, the pandemic has brought with it loneliness, job losses and illness or death, but for some of Silicon Valley’s thousands of homeless residents, it’s also brought a little hope as they find something like a home in one of the hotel and motel rooms that cities, counties and the state have reserved to help unhoused people shelter in place—even if it is just temporary.
The Barbers Inc. worked with HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, the city of Sunnyvale and Shaunn Cartwright, a vocal advocate for unhoused residents, to coordinate the haircuts—the first of many to come. Ledesma and his team have offered community services to unhoused people across Santa Clara County since 2017, but continuing that work during the pandemic was almost impossible, he said.
Rene Ramirez, chief operating office for HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, said he hopes events like this—as well as other services to come, like dental and chiropractic visits—will help unhoused residents feel supported and encouraged about the future as the region limps out of what health officials hope is the beginning of the end of the global pandemic.
“We’ve had some really good successes in recent weeks with the population we have housed at the motel, and we have people who are heading out to job interviews, getting housed, in housing searches,” he said. “We know how important appearance is for things like that—these groups have been a strong support system for this population.”
Ledesma and two other barbers stood under a neon green tent in the motel’s parking lot for about two hours, cutting 10 residents’ hair, styling and offering beard trims.
One of those people was Stacy, who asked not to use her last name because she was worried it would affect her job prospects. She said the hotel room and hair cut gave her self-esteem a boost. “It’s giving us all a chance to get back on our feet,” she said. “It makes a difference in your performance every day.”
Joel, a former construction worker who lost his job at the start of the pandemic and also asked to be identified by his first name, said a haircut is just part of his journey to stability. He’s searching for work and is eager to see his family again when it’s safe.
“With the haircuts and the other services, they’re helping me with everything I need,” he said. “It’s a really hard time to do anything—without their help, I couldn’t do it by myself.”
Wednesday’s event was relatively small, but Ledesma hopes future hair cutting clinics will be bigger as he and his team aim to host one to two sessions per month across the county. He says they will “go where needed.”
“The main thing is connecting with people,” he said. “And asking where we can help our community to enhance the area’s overall image.”