For Vancouver barber Alysha Osborne, the fight to change the way people think of those who live on the Downtown Eastside was ignited after work one day.
“A woman came up to me asking for change. The next thing I know, the person beside me yelled: ‘get a f–king job’,” she told Vancouver Is Awesome.
Osborne said she knew right then and there that something had to be done.
So she partnered with a photographer to take before, during, and after photos of DTES residents whose hair she cuts for free.
The barber said for those clients, life on the streets is not simply a choice.
“Everybody just assumes it's addiction and a choice, and there's so much more than that,” the hairdresser said, pulling from three years of conversations with clients.
It’s a result of trauma, she relayed – whether from a physical illness such as cancer, cerebral palsy, or a mental health struggle like post-traumatic stress disorder that complicates their bid for employment.
She knows the reality all too well after losing a stepmother and stepsister to drug overdoses.
"Our aim is to change the stigma people face during considerably hard times," she said.
DTES resident, who goes by the name "Mouse," was one of the very first non-profit clients Osborne gave a haircut in 2017 – he was styled with a blue beard.
“His story really hit home for me,” Osborne elaborated.
“He’s an old school hippie, a chef, and cook. He was visiting friends on Vancouver Island and rollerblading when he broke his back in three places during a crash.”
Ever since, Mouse has lived in the DTES, collecting cans and doing odd jobs for a living.
“His story is a drastic example that literally everyone without savings or support is in an entirely different spot when they lose just two paycheques,” the barber stressed.
Hence, the reason for the name of her registered non-profit – 2 Paycheques Away.
Just a year ago, the non-profit initiative operated as a moving trove of volunteers who would ask tenants at Vancouver women’s shelters if they wanted a haircut.
Now, the announced partnership with Gastown’s Barber & Co means Osborne and her DTES friends have a salon to call home.
“I’m very happy to just have a home base again, it’s been a year and a half,” she said.
Barber & Co is also providing a hairdresser to cut on her behalf for five to six hours a week at its flagship location.
The salon is reopening to clients Nov. 4, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
Those who wish to refer DTES residents for haircuts can call 604-558-0085.
Bookings will be for Wednesdays between 12 and 5 p.m.