BARBER PARAMEDIC: BarberAid founder and paramedic Damian Roche cuts David Thomas' hair.
BARBER PARAMEDIC: BarberAid founder and paramedic Damian Roche cuts David Thomas' hair. Cordell Richardson

How a haircut is turning peoples' lives around

WHEN he's not a paramedic, Damian Roche is a barber, helping to change homeless peoples' lives one trim at a time.

There are close to 900 homeless people in Ipswich and the BarberAid founder is aiming to make sure they all have access to a hair cut - but it's not about looking good.

Mr Roche said what most people considered a necessity, to those in the community without a roof over their head or an address to call home, a haircut was a luxury.

A schmick new trim also comes with the chance of a fresh start.

"It is a luxury," Mr Roche said. "I once cut a gentleman's hair, he hadn't had a haircut for a while, I gave him a nice sharp trim and he said to me 'maybe I could get a job now'.

"That would be the ultimate, the superb, for someone to be able to get a job or a home. To be able to get them on a pathway to find some employment or get a roof over their heads would be great.

"Sometimes society can be in their own little bubble and forget there is a lot of people who don't have the luxuries we do.

Damian Roche is an ambo who provides free haircuts to the needy.
Damian Roche is an ambo who provides free haircuts to the needy. Cordell Richardson

"A lot of people think homelessness is sleeping out in the open but it can also be those in overcrowded boarding houses or couch-surfing.

"These people are homeless and struggling. For the normal person, heading to the barber is something we have easy access to. These people don't have access to that."

Mr Roche and his team of barbers and hairdressers pitch their marquees in Queens Park every few weeks, plug in their clippers, and welcome anyone who wanted a haircut into their makeshift barber shop.

BarberAid was designed to simulate a regular barber.

Two tents and a row of chairs are a place for people to go, sit down and have a chat while they get a haircut.

Red Rooster supplies chicken and chippies for dinner, Ungermann Brothers bring the dessert, mobile business Orange Sky Laundry will help wash their clothes and people can also go away with care packs and toiletries.

"Their reaction is fantastic. They always thank us. We just want people to feel good about themselves," Mr Roche said.

"Having a smile on their face is enough for us, to be able to bring some joy to them. People might not think that's a lot but to a person who is struggling financially or having a roof over their head, that means the world to them."

Mr Roche has been a paramedic for 28 years in Ipswich, he started as a 20-year-old in 1999, but his barbering life began only five years ago.

The concept for BarberAid came about when Mr Roche cut hair for homeless people in Brisbane two years ago.

The Ipswich charity was founded last year and their first barber shop came to life in Queens Park in May.

"I always loved the craft of barbering and the history of it. I thought I'd be able to chat to people and make them feel good with a haircut and be able to look after them a bit," he said.

"Communication in both careers is very important. If you are able to communicate well, you are able to open up barriers whether in paramedic or barbering.

"It's good just to have a chat. A lot of people have forgotten the pathway and the ease of communication, to be just able to chat to each other."

There have been two BarberAid sessions this year, with another six planned before the year is out, plus an expansion to the Gold Coast next month.

"I am born a bred Ipswich boy and I love being able to give back. My parents instilled that in me and I will keep doing that. Seeing a smile on someone's face and knowing we are able to give them joy, that's all I need, to give them a haircut and a smile," Mr Roche said.

Mr Roche said he was looking for a potential sponsor to provide a van or car for BarberAid. Get in contact on 0467 227 237 to help or search BarberAid on Facebook.