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Ottawa's Rolling Barber gearing up for a second season, looking for volunteers

"We aim to offer service to the homeless population, as well as low income families, students and other people in those situations," said Co-Founder and Director of Communications Francois Thibeault.
28 low-income residents, and homeless people received a haircut at Monday's Rolling Barber location. (Photo/Mathieu Fleury).

A not-for-profit organization which offers free haircuts for Ottawa's homeless and low-income population is looking for more volunteers before taking to the streets again.

After launching the service in July of 2018, The Rolling Barber kicks off its second season of business on April 28.

Co-Founder and Director of Communications Francois Thibeault says he and Founder Anne Donovan were inspired by walking in the downtown core during their lunch breaks while they were working at the University of Ottawa.

"We saw people," said Thibeault, "and of course they had shelter and food, but we saw people at that time who were just wandering and waiting to do something else with their lives."

"Anne had this idea of offering free haircuts when she talked to her hairdresser about three years ago," he explained. "Last year in January she just decided to say, 'Hey, why not right now, in 2018, start this project?'"

After receiving support and the donation of a school bus from M.L. Bradley in Navan, their goal of a barber shop on wheels came to fruition.

"A big school bus that used to be bright yellow is now white, inside there are two barber chairs and people are just wandering around," said Thibeault. "We cut hair and trim beards in that funky environment. So far people really enjoy that." 

He said that the environment is non-judgmental, and that they want people to feel welcomed.

"We listen to their stories, and so if people want to share their stories they can," explained Thibeault. "But if they're more shy and just want their hair cut, that's fine too. It's really something that's very, very interesting for our volunteers. For them to make a difference in someone's life." 

With their operations starting this month and running until mid-November, Thibeault said he hopes The Rolling Barber will serve more people than they did last year. At 300 people served last year, he says aiming for 450 is an attainable goal.  

"We aim, also, to provide our services three weekends per month so it will be more sustainable in terms of our volunteers," said Thibeault. "Offering services every weekend is very difficult to get more volunteers involved because they only have two days off, so it's very difficult to find volunteers when it's constant every weekend." 

Sustainability is the name of the game for not-for-profit organizations, and Thibeault added their main concern is attracting more hairdresser and barber volunteers.

"Currently we have a team of about 20 hairdressers and barbers," said Thibeault. "To be sustainable we would ideally need 10 more, or something like that. Ottawa has a big population of barbers and hairdressers so it's just a matter of reaching out to them. That's what we're trying to do right now."

The Rolling Barber is attempting to create partnerships with various hairdressing schools to help reach this goal, potentially allowing student hairdressers to be allowed to volunteer as part of their two-year training. 

"It's a new venture for us as we try to create partnerships with hairdressing schools," he said, "so it's something we are exploring at this point and we'll see in the next few weeks, few months, if it's something that will be fruitful for us."

Through partnerships and agreements, The Rolling Barber has stops at four main locations. The Ottawa Mission, Somerset West Community Health Centre, Daybreak and Cornerstone Housing for Women are the regular stops for the service, but they also have some one-time events in others. 

Locations and dates for all stops are available three weeks in advance on The Rolling Barber website.   

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