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Barber fights to build compassion for DTES residents, 1 free haircut at a time

Barber Alysha Osborne first decided to give free haircuts on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after a troubling encounter with an acquaintance more than a year ago.

The two were getting out of a taxi when someone approached them and asked for spare change. The acquaintance laughed and told the person to get a job.

“It really pissed me off,” Osborne said, in the office upstairs from where she manages a downtown barber shop.

Osborne decided she wanted to do something to foster compassion for disadvantaged people living in Vancouver. She created 2 Paycheques Away, a non-profit that offers free haircuts and fundraises for Downtown Eastside residents.

“I want people to realize that it doesn’t take a lot to make a change,” she said. “Be humane to people, and compassion. It’s really not that hard.”

On Sunday afternoon, Osborne will be hosting a fundraiser and launch of her new book, which documents a year of giving free haircuts and shaves.

 

Osborne says her clients often seem brighter and more confident after getting one of her free haircuts. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

The organization operates out of a back room of a non-profit work clothing provider called Working Gear on Powell Street.

Along with the free haircuts, Osborne works with photographer Mihailo Subotic to get before and after shots of her clients — if they’re willing.

Osborne thought of before and after shots specifically because she wanted people to see how a simple change like a haircut can transform a person and how they’re perceived by others.

Of the roughly 200 free haircuts she’s given, Osborne says about 50 clients agreed to have their photo taken and sometimes share their story.

“Because of the purpose of the project,a lot of them gave me a lot of truth,” she said. “They want people to know how it goes.”

‘She cracks jokes’

Brad Bell, 57, first started getting haircuts from Osborne about a year ago.

Bell used to work as a fish culture technician, remediating river beds. But a congenital heart condition and bad arthritis means he now lives mostly off of disability cheques.

 

Brad Bell has been getting haircuts from Alysha Osborne for the past year. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

Bell went to Working Gear looking for rain gear — his had been stolen. While he was there, the volunteers at the shop told him there was a new barber working in the back giving free haircuts.

He and Osborne clicked. Since then, he’s been seeing her about every three months.

“She’s really sweet, funny — she cracks jokes,” Bell said. “She’s really nice, personable.”

Personal connection

Osborne says she knows from personal experience that most people on the Downtown Eastside don’t choose to end up there — her stepmother ran away from home as a teenager and ended up in the area as a sex worker and heroin addict by time she was 20.

“It’s really hard to know somebody and see that, but then see strangers and know that they’re going through the exact same thing,” she said.

 

Osborne also provides her clients with a free shave, if they want it. (Mihailo Subotic/2 Paycheques Away)

Osborne says she and Subotic had no idea what to expect when they first started their project. But in the past year, she has learned a lot from her clients — mostly about humanity and kindness.

“Everybody wanted to offer me something back, but these are people who have nothing,” she said.

Proceeds from Sunday’s fundraiser will go to Working Gear and the Downtown Eastside Women’s shelter. Proceeds from the book will also go towards supporting 2 Paycheques Away.

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