Until recently, scores of homeless people resided in tents and makeshift shelters right in the middle of downtown Fort Lauderdale at the Main Branch of the Broward County Library. Things many people take for granted, such as basic hygiene products, proper nutrition or healthcare, and access to clean water for bathing, are simply not readily available to those living in the tent city. A witness to the situation, a local barber has stepped in and found a way to make a difference in his city.
Greg Young is the founder of The Backpack Barber, a foundation created to address homelessness in Fort Lauderdale. A couple years ago, they held their first outreach event, with ten barbers participating and in coordination with Broward Partnership, a local shelter. The foundation provided outreach to the homeless with a haircut and a bag of hygiene products, snack, and drink. Perhaps more importantly, they were intentional about building self-esteem and dignity with each of their clients. The barbers have a unique opportunity to have conversations with every client and meet them where they are, listen to them, and offer advice on accessing homeless services.
Young co-founded Nobleman’s Cut and Shave, a barber shop in Ft. Lauderdale’s Fat Village. It was there that his idea was born. At first, they would just hop on a golf cart and drive around downtown with their supplies, giving haircuts to the homeless people they encountered.
At the website for The Backpack Barber, Young explains why he created the foundation:
“…everyone always says they need to do something about all of the homeless in our city. The problem is there is no they! We are those people! It’s up to each one of us to give a little bit of ourselves back into the world. Everyone has a skill or talent, even if it’s just to lend a listening ear. The time is now to make a difference in your city. Let’s keep doing the next right thing and be difference makers and see where that takes us.”
Young maximizes his visual storytelling skills to raise awareness on social media, and uses his platform to shine a light on how anyone can make a difference in creating a better world. Young, who at one point was also homeless, wants to inspire the rest of us to give back and give hope to the less fortunate in our community.
Although the relationship between the City of Fort Lauderdale and their homeless residents has been tense in the last few years, there is a renewed effort to provide permanent housing to the city’s homeless, and there is growing buy-in from the community to try new solutions. Residents seem to be waking up to the idea of seeing the homeless as human beings worthy of dignity and love. Young embodies a reality that all of us can realize in our own lives to change our own communities for the better. He sums up his noble purpose as this: “If I can save one person off the street and help them get their life back, and build their basic life skills … whatever that takes.”
If you’d like to support the Backpack Barber foundation please click the link below to find out more about how you can get involved!
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What is one thing you can do today to improve the lives of those in need in your community?
2. How do you think it feels to be homeless?
3. How can communities work together to end homelessness?