RACINE, Wis. — Chris Sidebottom was starting his new job last month. He was about to board a bus to Milwaukee to go to work, but stopped to get a haircut first.
Sidebottom stopped in at the Hospitality Center on a Monday morning, the Downtown services hub that helped him stay on his feet when he became homeless for the first time eight years ago.
One Monday every month, barbers donate their time and talents to give free haircuts at the Hospitality Center, 614 Main St. It's a Downtown respite service that complements the free meals, donated clothes and other aids the charity provides to Racine's impoverished community.
About 30% of the Hospitality Center's patrons are homeless, with the other 70% mainly comprised of people who are low income.
"This helps me a lot," Sidebottom said, as runs a hand through his freshly cut hair. "This helps me make a real good first impression at work."
The Rev. Seth Raymond, an Episcopal pastor who serves as the Hospitality Center's executive director, said that the haircuts are only one aspect of the "co-located services model" he wants to further implement at the center.
"It's been a goal of mine for a long time . to have one place where you can meet all of your basic needs," Raymond said. "This allows (Hospitality Center clients) to use their money and energy for more important things," like finding work or taking care of their kids or addressing medical needs.
"Our physical appearance is the first way people interact with us," Raymond said. He wants the Hospitality Center to fulfill "all those really fundamental needs that touch our dignity."
In addition to the community, support groups and food provided four days a week at the center, there is a free laundry day the final Wednesday of every month. A local dentist stops in bi-monthly, as does a representative from Racine County Human Services. Four times a year, nursing students from Carthage College provide checkups on-site.
Nationwide, the average haircut for women costs $45; for men, the average is $28, according to the Professional Beauty Association. Even at cheaper salons, prices bottom out near $14 for adults, and that's before a tip, the Journal Times reported.
"There's a real need for people," said Wally Herman, a Hospitality Center board member. "By giving them a meal, clothes or a haircut, it helps them have a little money to pay for electricity . or feel confident when applying to a job."
Adrian Ortega, 40, became homeless over the summer after the hotel he worked at closed. At a recent job interview, Ortega said he started feeling anxious as he worried about how he looked, and those nerves might have been the reason he didn't get hired.
"I know I could have had that job," Ortega said. "I was more nervous than anything, mainly over my appearance . when you're homeless, you don't have that much time to think about how you look."
By not paying for a haircut or buying his own razor, Wallace Wiggs — who got his hair cut by local barber Armando Gollaz, who works at Studio4C's Barbershop, 1859 Taylor Ave. — said that he'll be able to cover some of his bills more easily.
Gollaz said that he'll sometimes not charge his clients for haircuts, just to see their surprised reactions.
For the last year, he's been volunteering with the Hospitality Center and has time to cut about 10 heads during the monthly four-hour time slot.
Sometimes there have been as many as four barbers volunteering each month. In June, Gollaz was there alone.
"Everybody deserves a haircut," he said. "A lot of people have this skill (barbering). You're not supposed to use skills to benefit yourself, but for others."
He worked alongside Mervin Estrada, the owner of Milwaukee's Razor Sharp Barber Shop and the official barber of the Milwaukee Brewers.
"I just want to make people look good," Estrada said. "I like to do this to give back."
The Andis Foundation — the charity arm of Sturtevant-based Andis Co., which builds salon equipment — donates the supplies that the volunteer barbers use. Andis also partners with the Milwaukee Bucks for Barbershop Mondays, which offered six sessions of free haircuts for young men in Racine and Milwaukee.
Andis has been helping out at the Hospitality Center since the beginning of this year.
"We strongly believe we are only as strong as our community," said Laura Bishop, co-president of Andis Co. and president of the Andis Foundation. "This is something that's actually in the community."
"We hope, by Andis doing this," Raymond said, "it will encourage other corporations to invest in their local communities."
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Times