Diana Osborne: Helping the Homeless to Feel Human

– by Wendy Morley, Publisher –

People you should know: Diana Osborne

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Diana Osborne has always been sensitive about the way others are treated

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At 26 years old, Diana Osborne has been a hairdresser for 10 years. But she’s no ordinary hairdresser. Having always been sensitive to the way others are treated, Diana is in the habit of advocating for those in need. Recently, this caring and sensitive nature resulted in her deciding to use her hairdressing skills to much greater effect than normal.

Last year, after thinking about doing this for quite a while, Diana began reaching out to the community that serves the homeless in her city, offering haircuts to those vulnerable members of our society, giving them some dignity and the feeling of being treated like a human being.

Diana's first client at a homeless shelter, Debbie

With Debbie, Diana’s first client at a homeless shelter

Wendy Morley: How did you get involved in helping homeless people with their hair?

Diana Osborne: The best part of my job is watching the clients in my chair transform and ultimately love the way they look, so it seemed natural for me to share that possibility with those who need to be empowered the most. I already have my tools so it doesn’t cost me anything at all to do this, and it is something I love.

WM: How did you start?

DO: I was inspired by some fellow hairstylists in the US working with the homeless, so I just started calling and emailing shelters to see if there might be a demand for haircuts in Toronto. It took a long time to organize, as there were no programs in Toronto like this to my knowledge, and many of the organizations are tight on resources and time.

WM: Is there a facilitator who sets up the appointments? How does it work? 

DO: I generally work with the volunteer coordinator in each shelter to find out the best approach for them. I am the main contact for people looking to join me, but I have a point person at each shelter. They will try to advertise when I’m coming and set up appointments if possible. I usually use a room but I’ve cut hair in a bathroom and a hallway as well. The great thing is, as long as I have space and a chair, I’m good!

WM: Tell me a little about what it means to your homeless clients, to get a haircut. 

Diana's talent is to make people look and feel beautiful

Diana’s talent is to make people look and feel beautiful

DO: It’s really about being treated like a human, I’ve come to realize. Everyone has basic needs like food and water, but people tend to forget the humanizing side. Being treated like a human being gives people confidence and empowers them.

For some of my clients the haircut might just give them a boost; for others it might help them find a job. One client was very nervous about me cutting her hair, so we started with the bangs. She had been pretty fidgety but once I started she got very quiet and closed her eyes. After a minute she said, “I forgot how wonderful it feels to have someone do your hair.” It’s these small moments that show how important this is to them. People tell me things like: “I feel like Beyoncé!” or: “You just made my day.”

WM: Do you know any stories about how this has specifically helped anyone? 

DO: I don’t, because I’ve worked with many different shelters and constantly see fresh faces. But I know one person had a job interview that she wanted to look good for and another was seeing her son for the first time in three years, so she was very excited she’d have a fresh haircut.

WM: I’ve gotta ask. Homeless people tend not to have the opportunity to keep clean, and therefore are both dirty and smelly, Is this difficult to deal with on a personal basis? How do you get beyond the ick factor? 

Most clients come to the appointment clean, but when they can't, Diana feels extra compassion

Most clients come to the appointment clean, but when they can’t, Diana feels extra compassion

DO: This was my original hesitation as well. The people I’m working with generally have access to the shelter facilities and I do request, if possible, to come with clean hair. However unfortunately some just aren’t able to. In that case I do my best. For me, it’s those people that I feel for the most. Can you imagine being in a position where you’re not able to shower and clean yourself?

WM: Tell me what you get out of doing this. 

DO: I get to meet these wonderful people that have been through so much, and hear their stories. They are funny, smart and positive and it really gives you some amazing perspective. Some are talkative and some are very quiet, but what I really get out of this is knowing that I’m doing what I can to empower the people who need it the very most in society. There’s so much negativity in the world and so I need to know I’m adding kindness, compassion and empathy.

WM: Do you have any goals or dreams about working with homeless people in other capacities, about what can be accomplished? Or is this just your thing that you are able to do, your bit to help? 

DO: I have many goals, but I would really love to continue the movement that some others in my industry have started, and get more people to join me in caring for the less fortunate. It took me awhile to start because initially I was nervous to do this alone. I’d like to break that barrier for others. My dream is to have a network of hairstylists who can service many areas of the city, and not just the homeless shelters, but also abused women’s shelters and more.

WM: Do you have regular clients in this community? 

DO: I try to see new people all the time, so that they can each at least have one great haircut, but I do have some repeats.

WM: What would you like other people to know about the homeless? 

DO: I’d like people to know that they are just like us, and that they are part of our community. I’m by no means an expert, but this has been my experience. They have families; they had jobs; they were kids once and went to school. They are really just people that maybe had some bad luck or health issues and ended up where they are. I encourage people to talk to them or at the very least acknowledge that they are there. Acknowledgment for anyone –homeless or not – is extremely important.

 

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