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Street Thug Barbers serve up free haircuts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Haircuts with compassion

What started as two Vancouver friends – Cameron Sterling and Josh Malcolm – wanting to enact positive change in the community has grown into a worldwide hairdressing movement.

It was in 2015 when the barbers, now dubbed the “Street Thug Barbers” first took their clippers to Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside to give anyone who needed it a free haircut.

The men usually work out of Gastown's Victory Barber & Brand barbershop.

One of the group’s volunteers, Shawna, has lived in the DTES for 30 years.

“This is my community,” Shawna says in a newly released short documentary about the initiative.

As a child, she played in Oppenheimer Park, where the group does outreach each Sunday.

As she got older, “I was looked down on like I was the dredges of society, like I was just a little blip in the street, looking for a free ride,” Shawna recalled.

“But the compassion and love they gave to the ‘down and out’ and hopeless are what attracted me to the Street Thug Barber movement,” she explained.

For five years now, a group of three or more barbers has been giving out haircuts.

Sterling, the co-founder of Street Thug Barber, admitted he craves the sense of both “chaos” and “community” found in the DTES since he's been sober.

“I feel like I need to give back to validate what I’ve been through in my own life, or else you went through it in vain if you can’t help other people going through it,” he said.

“I’ve heard some people say the opposite of addiction is connection, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” Sterling added.



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