Joshua Coombes had no intention of becoming a hairdresser to the homeless. It all started coincidentally, he said, but his first trim inspired him to keep going. Since then, he has cut countless hobos’ hair, and he’s taken his styling kit around the globe, giving fresh looks to those without a roof over their heads. And you won’t believe some of the jaw-dropping transformations he’s achieved...
Once upon a time, Joshua Coombes worked at a hair salon in Devon, England. But for him, the job itself wasn’t necessarily his dream career. He told good cause website Movember.com, “I didn’t get into hairdressing as my passion initially, I loved the creativity, but it was the people I came back for – the human connection and creating spaces where people feel comfortable to talk.”
And life behind the salon chair gave him that opening, he said. “Cutting someone’s hair is quite an intimate thing and you really see someone come out of their shell and they start talking to you a bit deeper about their life and their situation,” Coombes explained.
Initially, Coombes was connecting with his clients in England’s West Country. But eventually his profession would allow him to build a rapport with a range of people across the globe. And how did he make the transition? It all boils down to a one fateful off-the-cuff decision to style someone’s hair after he’d clocked out of work, which by now was in a London salon.
Coombes told Movember.com, “It just happened one day. I had all my gear on me and I was walking past people on the streets and seeing the poverty that was on my doorstep. I ended up buying this homeless guy a coffee and offered him a haircut – it felt natural, I didn’t overthink it.”
That day in 2015 changed the trajectory of Coombes’s life forever. He not only continued cutting homeless people’s hair, but he started chronicling his work on social media. The posts caught on as the world began to see just how much a haircut could change a person’s entire look and demeanor.
Coombes’s styling and social media no longer center on just the homeless community in the U.K., either. As he has garnered more attention on Instagram, he has started traveling the world to help unsheltered adults by transforming their hair. Sometimes, he brings along other charitably minded professionals who can help his clients in another way. For instance, animal doctor Jade Statt has worked alongside him, tending to pets while their homeless owners have a haircut.
Coombes hasn’t just gathered all of his clients’ stories on Instagram, either. In his book, Do Something for Nothing: Seeing Beneath the Surface of Homelessness through the Simple Act of a Haircut, he shares even more transformations. And he hopes that these images and tales will help to lessen the unfair notions of shame and disgrace that can often surround people who don’t have a place to call home.
So, can a haircut do all of that? Well, Coombes and his clients across the globe believe it can certainly help. If you need a bit more proof, though, we’ve got you covered. These 30 before-and-after photos from the hairstylist’s Instagram page will make your jaw drop – and the people’s stories will show you just how much a new cut can mean.
Coombes met Kareem in Paris, an encounter that left the latter looking like a new person. Normally, he said he would only have his hair cut once a year when he stayed at a shelter. But he got a cool new ‘do from the British stylist, and some of the passers-by who saw him regularly made a point of remarking how good he looked afterwards.
Stuart’s before-and-after isn’t as huge a makeover as some of the others, but, to Coombes, the subtle changes remind him what it’s really about. He wrote, “For me, offering haircuts on the street has always been a vehicle to foster a connection with another person. This image reminds me that it’s not about some great transformation in the superficial sense, but the time spent holding space for another human being.”
Coombes transformed Tomás’ hair by shearing his unruly locks and shaping them into a point at the front. But he had first helped him by bringing him a bite to eat and a soft drink after finding him lying flat-out on a Los Angeles walkway. Sadly, many others in the City of Angels had passed him by – but the stylist took the time to make sure he was okay.
Coombes took off a good amount of length when he styled Samantha’s hair, but it wasn’t the physical transformation that touched her. He wrote on Instagram that it seemed like she had a “shift in mentality” after her cut. Plus, he shared, “She told me how much it meant just having someone outside of her circle to speak with, and what it means when people passing by would simply acknowledge her each day with a smile.”
Miguel told Coombes that he couldn’t remember the last time he had his hair cut. As the U.K.-based barber started shaping his client’s unruly hair, something truly endearing happened. People started gathering around them to chat. Then, a nearby shoe shiner offered Miguel a free treatment, too. Coombes recalled, “It was nice to see Miguel with his new hairdo, reading the paper, getting his shoes shined up like new. I’ll always remember that day.”
Coombes wasn’t the only one who said he enjoyed David’s company. The London resident happily greeted the people who passed him by, and many stopped to catch up with him. The stylist noted that these moments meant the world to David, but it’s clear from the smile on this face that his haircut did, too.
Coombes fondly remembered a client in Amsterdam named Ash. After his haircut, he leapt out of the chair, grabbed two sheets of paper and tried to sweep up the clippings on the floor. Sadly, the stylist received an update down the line that Ash had passed away after quietly battling with a terminal illness.
Monika moved from Slovakia to Paris with her husband, Marian, after a friend had promised them work in the City of Light. But their jobs fell through, leaving them homeless – and in need of haircuts when Coombes came to town. Luckily, the stylist had an update on the pair: they got the chance to stay in a studio apartment for a few months; here’s hoping this lucky break has helped them get back on their feet.
After Coombes finished Gerald’s makeover, it seemed as though he could barely believe how he looked. Not only did he move the mirror around to inspect his shorter, slicked-back hair, but he kept rubbing his clean-shaven face. We understand his shock, though: it was a pretty big change for the Anchorage, Alaska, resident, after all.
Alisha’s transformation might not look as extreme as some of the others, but it meant a lot to her. Coombes trimmed her locks and reshaped them as she aimed to grow them out. The year prior, the stress of her mother’s illness had meant the street-dweller had lost most of her hair. It took her a while to build up confidence to get her tresses cut after that, but she was in good hands.
Frank’s slick new haircut would be a great asset as he looked to turn over a new leaf. He told Coombes that he hoped to find a job in construction and take care of himself in the meantime. He said, “I’m trying to keep myself healthy. I don’t really drink and never use drugs. I’m trying to walk a lot to lose some weight. Hopefully a door will open soon enough.”
Michael’s haircut made him look decades younger – and it’s hard not to notice that it gave him a little smile, too. Coombes wrote in his Instagram caption that he gave his client a Polaroid photo of him with his new ‘do, and he watched Michael checking it again as he walked away.
Coombes crossed paths with Henrico in Cancún, Mexico, and his haircut completely changed his demeanor. The barber recalled, “He was broke and down on his luck in that moment, but Henrico really came alive during the haircut. It was beautiful to see. Afterwards he was full of energy and took us around the neighbourhood, pointing out things he thought would be interesting to me.”
Like many of the other faces on this list, Coombes met Matthew – and cut his hair – multiple times. In this before-and-after photo set, though, he gave his repeat client a major transformation by shaving the sides of his head and slicking back the rest. Clearly, Matthew loved his new look, but he admitted that he loved his time connecting with his stylist even more. He said, “When people do take the time to have a conversation, it means something. Everyone needs different things in their life. But having someone to listen to you is important for everybody.”
Before he agreed to let Coombes give him a trim, Richard had a major case of bedhead. His unruly tresses stood up and pointed in every direction. The stylist didn’t completely take away his client’s lofty locks, but he did shorten them a bit and tame them by combing them to one side.
Before her haircut, the swoop of Georgia’s chin-length bangs covered her eyes. But Coombes made sure that the world could see her clearly with the shortened style he gave to her. And, although she grinned through her pictures, the stylist said he could feel the hurt she felt about her situation. As he put it, “This beautiful girl is in a lot of pain.”
Coombes met Travis in Anchorage, Alaska, as he and a few other homeless residents pressed close together for warmth. The stylist let them know he’d be around for a few days, and the 21-year-old eventually turned up for a haircut. When he saw the end result – a stylish pompadour-inspired look – he told Coombes, “I dig this!”
Kai’s transformation is one of the most astonishing examples on Coombes’ Instagram. It has to be because he had both long hair and a long beard, both of which disappeared by the end of his haircut. As the stylist worked, a passerby gave Kai enough cash to put himself and his buddies in a hostel for the evening, as well.
It wasn’t just Geoffrey’s haircut and beard clean-up that transformed him, according to Coombes. The New Yorker’s demeanor completely changed with a warmer expression sweeping across his features. As the hairstylist put it, “He has one of those smiles that dusts off the grumpiest of faces.”
What seemed to resonate most strongly with Coombes about his time with Toby was how polite the 19-year-old was to his stylist and everyone else who passed by them on the street. He explained the reason for his optimism in spite of it all, saying, “You’ve got to have people to talk to right? Otherwise you'd go crazy. I know I won’t be here forever so I’d like to think I’d give time to someone else in this position.”
Paul was nearly unrecognizable after his haircut, and his new look would serve him in the goals that he outlined to Coombes during their chat. The hairstylist wrote in his Instagram caption, “He’s been on the street for three years [in London] and is still hoping for a break soon.”
Coombes shared Andrea’s short-hair transformation in May 2018, but it wasn’t the first time that the pair had met. This time – a year after they had first got to know one another – she requested an extra-close crop to help her prepare for summer in New York City. Her stylist said of their reunion, “I’m so glad to have run into this lovely lady once more.”
Michael’s transformation was a visual embodiment of the changes he had made in his own life. He admitted to Coombes – who noticed how thin the London resident was – that he had struggled with a heroin addiction. But he also said, “I got clean, at least that’s something. But there’s still a way to go.”
After his buzzcut and beard removal, London resident Merv told Coombes that he wanted to paint the town red. He said, “I feel like going to buy a shirt and taking us out tonight. I’ve never really had a social life… I’ve never even been to a club before. One day, I’d like to see what it’s all about.”
Twenty-four-year-old Joshua didn’t open up to Coombes much during his session, but he did tell the hairstylist why he wanted a close cut and clean-shaven face. He explained, “It’s hard to find the chance to shave out here and it’s been so hot here recently.” And he must have been happy with the results, as he gave the barber a big hug after they finished.
Coombes met Joe in Los Angeles, although he originally hailed from Mexico. Interestingly enough, the man who received such a slick haircut had once been a barber himself. He said he missed being behind the chair for the same reason that Coombes said he valued his job so much: Joe had loved connecting with clients as he gave them a new look.
Blue originally trained as a welder, and he worked at the same company for years. But life and love brought him away from his hometown of Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona, for a decade. When he returned to California, he had trouble restarting his life – and Coombes was there to share his story and give him a crisp new haircut as he sought a new start.
Coombes met Darak in Exeter, England, and he wrote on his Instagram that he “enjoy[ed] talking to this guy so much.” It took a while for the stylist to get Darak booked into his traveling salon, though. That’s because he often gave up his place in the queue to others with a more pressing need – a sign of his “generous nature and huge heart,” Coombes wrote.
London native Callum met Coombes in his hometown, and he told the hairstylist how hard it was on the streets and in cheap hostels, where many homeless people seek refuge. After his haircut, though, he found himself in better spirits. He said, “I feel great Josh, thank you. It’s time for a cigarette.”
Milwaukee resident David ended up in Miami after losing his passport and wallet while on a trip. He didn’t want to go back to his hometown, he told Coombes, but he did want to “work his way out of” life on the street. His clean-cut hairdo and facial shave would certainly help him get there.
Even if you’re not a hairstylist, Coombes’ work can still inspire you to make a change. As the title of his book states, you can Do Something For Nothing. A kind gesture can go a long way in someone’s life – so, let your heart guide you and see what a difference you can make, too.