Seattle Street Barber offers more than just free haircuts

The Seattle Times Homeless Project is funded by BECU, Campion Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Seattle Foundation and University of Washington. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over Project Homeless content.

Randy Miller was walking down the sidewalk in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood on the hottest day of the year so far, cars speeding by in search of someone in need of a haircut.

He saw a man across the street standing near an Arco petrol station as if he had nowhere to go.

When there was a break in traffic, Miller ran across the street to talk to him with a red camping chair hanging over his shoulder, a small backpack with a hair clipper bouncing off his back.

“Want a free haircut and shave?” she asked the man.

They settled on the latter.

And there, next to an Arco station against a white wall with graffiti and the shadow of a nearby tree, Randy Miller’s free, homeless barber was in business.

Miller’s haircut job, which goes by the name BetheBlessing206, costs nothing, because his homeless clientele doesn’t have much, if at all, money. Yet she treats it as a professional operation.

“With me you get more than one haircut,” Miller said.

When you sit in Miller’s barber chair, he goes down to your level to listen.

He smiles, asks questions. It can hold the field with passers-by, keeping the person in the chair the center of attention. He is kind to his job, carefully tilting people’s heads forward or backward as needed. She brings wet wipes to help clean someone’s hair if she hasn’t been able to shower in a while.

Talk about the Seahawks. The weather. He asks people where they come from. It shares part of its history.

His barber chair has been improved since Miller started his business: from a milk crate to the folding chair he carries around. He used a garbage bag where he made a hole for a barber’s cape in the beginning. He now he has a real one with a picture of Kobe Bryant on the front.

It operates on any open sidewalk, sometimes inside day care centers or homeless shelters. He is known for cutting his hair at bus stops or parking lots.

It’s hard to get a good haircut when you’re homeless, customer Joshua Cage explained.

“I trust him more than I trust a shop,” Cage said.

Miller is familiar with this problem. He created BetheBlessing206 as a way to turn his frustration with the homeless system into something useful. And he hopes it can lead to better things.

He started an Amazon Wishlist to help acquire more equipment. It is on Twitter and Instagram. And people everywhere, from Alaska to Germany to England, have sent him donations. Sometimes they come with little notes of encouragement.

“We are cheering for you,” wrote one person.

“There are good people in the world,” Miller said. It’s easy to forget when you are homeless.

Nowadays, when he’s not working a day to earn some money, he’s out on the streets of Seattle cutting his hair and beard, offering some love and attention to people who don’t have much.

It’s something he would like to have too.

“Be a blessing”

More than two years ago, before Miller started BetheBlessing206, he was standing in front of the bathroom mirror and cutting his hair with scissors, surrounded by other homeless people. He was in a day care center in Seattle that helps the poor find work when someone asked, “Hey man, can I use your clippers?”

“I told him, ‘No’, why not,” Miller said. You have to look after yourself when you are homeless and clippers are hard to find.

But then he thought about it.

A month ago, he was getting really frustrated with the system. Frustrated that the government and organizations weren’t helping him out of being homeless. He started praying in his bunk, asking God, “How can I not be homeless anymore?”

“Why can’t I go on?”

And God answered, Miller said.

“If I want a blessing from him, I have to be a blessing for other people,” Miller heard.

At the day center, he went back to the man who would ask for his clippers in the bathroom and told him he would do better with them. She would have cut her hair for him.

“I think love and relationship are what homeless people lack,” Miller said. “I think people are homeless for too long.”

Miller is still homeless himself. He currently lives in a shelter and is running it. He has lived in a shelter or out on and off for about 20 years.

Miller’s parents divorced when he was young. In his childhood, he moved a lot like an army brat. He was raised primarily by a single mother who made the best of him, Miller said.

But the things he’s earned in his life – like getting his GED or a restaurant job or an old apartment – he says he figured it out for himself.

Laying the groundwork

In early April, Miller was standing in a corner in downtown Seattle with the same red camping chair swung over his shoulder when Cage bumped him.

“Are you ready?” Miller asked.

“Let’s do it,” Cage told him.

The couple began walking south, past the buses that passed on Third Avenue, past the tourists, past the people lying on the street.

A few blocks later, Miller found what he was looking for: a wide sidewalk outside a closed coffee shop.

“You have to be considerate,” he said.

He has been called by the police in the past for having his hair cut, so he is careful to find places where he can feel out of the way.

Miller settled down while Cage pulled his hair back using an empty shop glass window as a mirror. Funky tunes rang from a round speaker, helping to set the mood.

People passed. Some stopped to watch.

“Hey bro, free haircuts if you want to be next,” Miller offered to a passerby.

Cage now lives in a tiny village of houses, but the 28-year-old survived on the outside. He met Miller after spending what little money he had on a fade from a local chain.

“They raised me,” he said. “He was short and short, and he was awkward. I looked like the moon. ”

Miller cut his hair a couple of times. When it’s long, Cage said, he’ll put on a hat and look for Miller walking around Pioneer Square and downtown Seattle.

Miller doesn’t ask his clients directly if they’re homeless. If you’re on the street and need a cut, he’ll do it. He doesn’t ask for money, but if someone wants to give him some money, he takes it.

He had people run to a nearby 7-Eleven to buy him a piece of pizza to thank him or to offer him food using their SNAP perks. He mainly cuts men’s hair, but he’s also done women’s hair.

He had homeless people approached him and asked him for a haircut if they have a job interview. She recently cut a boy’s hair because he wanted to be nice to visit his mother.

“Your appearance affects how you live,” Miller said. Hosted people treat you differently if you seem a little assembled.

While homeless, Miller was largely able to secure food or shelter when he needed it.

But do you come from a good haircut? It is much harder to find.

See a future

The day Miller gave Cage a fade, he said the trick to that style was “pay attention.”

This could apply to any aspect of his work on BetheBlessing206.

He has built his work on three fundamental principles, he says: first, be responsible. If he cuts his hair in a certain part of town, he’ll come back to find old customers.

Second, build personal relationships.

And third, create an experience.

“Since I’m homeless, one of our complaints, I suppose, is that we want to be treated like normal people.”

Miller has many goals when it comes to hair cutting and serving friends and strangers in the Seattle homeless community. She would like to find a way to go to barber school and then she wants to figure out how to help more people, perhaps setting up a mobile clinic to cut hair in a van.

Use the bus and light rail to get to places, but with a vehicle it could cover a lot more ground.

His goal isn’t to own a four-bedroom home, he said. And she doesn’t want a brick and mortar shop, serving people who already have a home.

He wants to find a way to give back to people who are homeless, people like him, people who feel forgotten.

My main verse for this from the Bible is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ ”Miller said.

He thinks it’s the part that upsets people the most when they see him on the street.

Not that he’s a decent, self-taught barber, but that he’s serving someone else.

You can follow Miller’s work on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook on betheblessing206.

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