When Joshua Santiago started providing haircuts to people struggling with homelessness, it was his dream to one day own an RV so he could take his services to the road. The Mayfair resident has been providing free haircuts for four years after establishing Empowering Cuts, appearing in Kensington and other neighborhoods around the city.
Since establishing the nonprofit, he’s provided over 7,500 free haircuts. Now, he’s one step closer to his dream – Santiago raised enough money to purchase the 32-foot vehicle. Now he just has to get equipment like barber chairs, a shampoo bowl, sinks, a television, a bathroom and possibly even a table for a nail salon.
“This was the dream for four years, and now that we have the RV it’s like, I can’t even put it in words,” Santiago said.
The money came from a GoFundMe fundraiser thanks to the generosity of people who donated. Santiago raised $6,000 from individuals and organizations over the matter of weeks before he started an online campaign. After the link was posted to The Shade Room, an Instagram account that posts trending news stories, his story went viral, and around $17,000 was raised in less than 24 hours.
The post gathered over 150,000 likes and 3,400 comments, including one from a hero of Santiago’s. Ben Simmons of the 76ers commented on the post, and the next day Santiago was able to get in touch with the basketball player and his manager.
“He said can you please send me a wish list,” Santiago said.
Santiago forwarded him a list of the equipment needed for the mobile barbershop, and Simmons told him to give his team a few days to look into getting the equipment.
The RV isn’t in the best shape, but once the upgrades are made Santiago plans to drive it around the city and country and welcome individuals. He’s used to life behind the wheel, working as an Uber driver both to support himself and to afford gas, storage and everything else to keep Empowering Cuts running.
For Santiago, a haircut means as much to a person on the inside as the outside. While he was enrolled in the American Beauty Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, he traveled to homeless shelters to cut hair, and he realized he liked the gratitude of the person more than he likes the money.
Santiago said he’s become a familiar face in Kensington, and people will recognize and talk to him when he’s not even there to cut hair.
“I look at it as more than a haircut. It’s the emotional connection I have with these people,” he said.
Before COVID-19, Santiago would give haircuts four or five days a week, and since the virus spread he’s still been making sure to go out once or twice a week.
Since beginning, he’s traveled to 20 states across the country to give haircuts and work with other nonprofits. In October, he’s traveling to Dallas to cut hair at juvenile centers with a nonprofit. Last weekend, he drove up to Baltimore to help freshen up individuals and provide them with food, a shower and resource sheets.
“They come in the door looking this way and they leave looking that way, and it’s just a beautiful thing,” he said. ••
To view the GoFundMe page, visit gofundme.com/f/bring-hope-one-haircut-at-a-time.