Traveling salon offers barber, beauty services for homeless

Carl Adams has his beard trimmed by stylist Sergio Delgado in the Beauty in Transition traveling salon. MICHAEL PRONZATO / Staff Photographer

Carl Adams, 49, of Southwest Philadelphia, has been homeless for much of the past year, since he was released from prison.

"When I got out, family and friends were gone," Adams said.

Despite lacking a home and family, Adams got an important boost last week: a makeover from a traveling salon that provides free hair washes, cuts, color, and styling.

In preparation for a meeting with a lawyer, Adams got a beard trim and a haircut in a blue-and-white trailer in the parking lot of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, on 13th Street north of Vine Street.

"I want to look presentable," he said.

The traveling salon, called Beauty in Transition, made a series of Philadelphia stops as part of a Pennsylvania swing by New York artist Jody Wood, who created the makeover-mobile to help break down barriers between homeless people and the rest of the public.

"What is homelessness? It's a reductive label based on something someone doesn't have," said Wood, who created her first beauty parlor for the homeless in Lawrence, Kan., in 2006 and took it on the road two years ago.

Wood said she wanted to help the homeless have more control over how they appear in public.

That has a "huge impact on identity," she said, noting that at shelters, the homeless often can't maintain their image and hygiene because of tight quarters and a lack of privacy.

Outward appearances, Wood said, have a huge impact on self-esteem, social acceptance, and relationships.

In her travels, Wood enlists the aid of local salon owners. She called Sergio Delgado, owner of Salon Masaya in Fishtown, to help at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

"I think it's important for people to continue that sense of community," Delgado said. "If I can give them a haircut that could possibly lead them to a new job, to me, that's just a sense of community."

Before heading west to Reading, Wood took her mobile salon to shelters in West Philadelphia and Chinatown, where she collaborated with hairdressers from the Admirations Hair It Iz salon in Center City.

Wood finances her project through institutional contributions and public donations. She brought her salon to Philadelphia at the invitation of the Asian Arts Initiative.

Nancy Chen, senior programs manager for the group, said it wanted to improve relations between homeless people and their neighbors.

"The homeless communities are another major constituency of the neighborhood," Chen said. "And what we have noticed is that there is a prevailing attitude where many people wish the homeless would just move to another neighborhood.

"One of the roles we hope to play through the arts is to build bridges."

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