Volunteers provide free haircuts to the homeless in Santa Rosa

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Hairstylist Natalie Comora talked with Reggie Piombo as she grasped between her index and middle fingers another pinch of his slicked-back silver strands and met them with a pair of shears.

“I’ll take it short. I’ll give you a nice gentleman’s cut, OK?” said Comora, 29, of Santa Rosa. “I’ll make sure to get you some sunscreen, too.”

Piombo, 62, a Santa Rosa resident for more than 30 years and presently homeless, said he hadn’t had a haircut in at least three months, but maybe it was closer to seven — he couldn’t remember. He sat still as Comora circled behind over his sunburned crown, his eyes closed and his thumb fidgeting with the black haircutting cape.

“High and tight around the ears, please,” he said, enjoying the water mist from a spray bottle.

He was among dozens who received new dos Sunday during the “Haircuts for the Homeless” event, held in the Santa Rosa City Hall parking lot. The haircut made him feel “like a million bucks,” Piombo said with a laugh.

Danika O’Leary-Johnson, owner of The Loft at the Boulevard salon in Rohnert Park, has hosted the pop-up event for the homeless for approaching a decade.

She had finished five haircuts an hour into Sunday’s event, which before last year was held at Santa Rosa’s Juilliard Park. She said it was the first time people slept overnight in the area to ensure they got a haircut.

O’Leary-Johnson said it’s gratifying to offer her skills to those especially in need, all for little more than a bit of her time away from the salon. Even for her, a haircut sometimes gets lost in the fray of daily life, or when on a budget.

“Most of the people who come out here, it’s the last thing they’re going to worry about,” said O’Leary-Johnson, 33. “I know that when I’m broke, it’s the last thing on my list that I’m going to take care of. At the end of the day, as much as I want one, the roof over my head, the bills getting paid and the food in my stomach comes first.”

Speakers blared with songs from Sam Cooke and Chuck Berry, welcoming those who wanted free haircuts. A local Starbucks store provided complimentary coffee while people waited for their haircut, some as long as an hour. Donated clothes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and personal hygiene items such as razors, plastic combs and lip balm were available for attendees.

The dozen or so volunteers cut more than 100 people’s hair over five hours on Sunday, compared to 150 during some of their busier years, said O’Leary-Johnson.

Preston Boswell, 63, of Santa Rosa, became homeless about six years ago after carpal tunnel syndrome cut short his career as a journeyman painter, he said. He had no problem waiting patiently for a haircut, which he said he hadn’t had for at least a couple years.

“Somebody said there was an event going on here and they had clothes and haircuts, and I’m ready for both,” said Boswell, who sat on a shaded curb with Rucky, his 15-month-old shepherd-husky mix.

“You can see the shape it’s in,” he said about his matted, ash-colored shoulder-length hair and beard. “I don’t really handle a brush very well. I’m gonna have them cut it off. It’s too hot.”

He and several others said they were thankful to save the $20 they would expect to spend at a low-cost haircut shop. The stylists said they were glad to give their clients the gift of a new look to fend off the summer heat, understanding themselves how every dollar in the bank account can make all the difference.

“In San Francisco, most anybody is just one paycheck away from being homeless. Sometimes we forget that,” said Mike Imboden, who cuts hair at The District Barbers in San Francisco, but is originally from Santa Rosa. “Having a little humility goes a long way.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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