Photo project

Clean Start: Stories of Homeless People from the Streets Barber Nasir Sobhani

27-year-old master Nasir Sobhani cut the hair of Australians with difficult lives and writes down their stories.

27-year-old Nasir Sobhani lives in Melbourne, Australia, and works in a barber shop six days a week. He spends his only day off doing the Clean Cut, Clean Start — project – cutting the hair of homeless people.

About three years ago, Sobhani underwent rehabilitation from drug addiction and moved from Canada to Australia. In Melbourne he got a job at a barber shop. One day at the shop he met a car washer who had been off heroin for two months. To celebrate, he got Sobhani to do his hair. The car washer’s mother, who came to the shop with him, was moved to tears and photographed her son’s new look. This is how it all started.

Sobhani’s goal is to stay sober and, as he puts it on the project’s website, help others ‘believe in the fundamental goodness of human beings’. This is why he photographs his homeless clients and posts their stories on The Streets’ Barber Instagram.

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Bird In Flight offers you the most interesting stories from The Streets’ Barber’s blog.

This is Milosh, one of my first less privileged clients whose hair I got to cut at the barbershop and document. Milosh hadn’t got a proper cut in over five years and would wash car windows outside our barber shop at the stop light for years to support his drug addiction. However, Milosh decided to change his life and was 2 months sober from drug use. With this beautiful change, he decided to get a haircut to go along with it. He came in with his sweet mother, who you could see suffered for many years, but was ecstatic to see her son making changes. All she could do was smile and take photos during the whole experience as though this was his first haircut. At the end of it, his words were heartwarming. “Thanks Nas, my daughter will think I look so good now”.

This is Ryan. He is 36 years old. He had a rough time growing up – it started mostly when he was 14, when he got kicked out of his house and was forced to live out on the streets. It wasn’t because of drugs, it wasn’t because of crime, it was because he wasn’t doing well with his studies and was getting in too much trouble at school. On the streets he unfortunately got himself into “gear”. Heroin and crystal meth were his drugs of choice. He was in and out of prison for over a decade as resorted to a life of crime to support his addiction. He has got such a pure heart and innocent and sweet personality that it was hard to believe this is how he is – but I remembered (from personal experience) that no one is themselves when heavily addicted to a substance and it can make you do things contrary to your nature. I asked him what he’s learnt from life and the advice he’d like to give people reading this – he said “know the consequences of the things you do, you won’t always get second chances”. We went the whole nine yards on Ryan. We gave him a dry shampoo, haircut, face shave, styling product, and finished with a nice smelling aftershave. When he saw what he looked like he gave me the BIGGEST smile and told me “I look like Matt Damon – I’m feel like a SUPERSTAR”.

This is Philip. He is 48 years old and sells The Big Issue, which is a street newspaper published on four continents. It is written by professional journalists and sold by homeless individuals.The Big Issue is one of the UK’s leading social businesses and exists to offer homeless people, or individuals at risk of homelessness, the opportunity to earn a legitimate income, thereby helping them to reintegrate into mainstream society. I was also told that it employs people suffering from mental illness and/or physical disabilities. It is the world’s most widely circulated street newspaper. When I got a chance to work with the crew at @homelessofmelbourne at the HoMie store I got to meet Phil and give him this much needed grooming session. On that day all the Big Issue vendors got a chance to receive a new outfit from the folks at @homie_melb and a fresh new haircut and shave from me. I was quite glad with the outcome of this cut – and judging by his smile I think Phil was too.

In all my travels I have never crossed paths with a man this special. In his 50’s – I didn’t end up getting his name nor did I really learn his story – but he created a title for me based on what he observed me doing all afternoon. He started calling me ‘Purity of Love and Faith Good Samaritan Hair Stylist”. He was very insistent that if his picture was to be posted that under the picture I would put this title that he had created for me. At one point he sang for us, and we spoke about the music we enjoyed. I told him I really like reggae and rap – and that one of my favourite artists was Rick Ross. He told me he’d go out and listen to the guy as he’d never heard him before, then he insisted that he’d come find me at my barbershop and ask for Rick Ross’ hair stylist next time he wanted to see me. As a parting gift after his haircut, he wanted my hair apron – so he could wear it as a cape. In the top right photo you can see him walking away with it around his neck. He turned it around and wore my cape as though he was a superhero. If only he knew, he actually became my hero.

This is Frank. He’s a 41-year-old father of two and has been battling heroin addiction for most of his life. He told me he hasn’t been able to get a proper haircut due to his current financial situation and left his beard to grow out because he felt depressed and unmotivated to look clean. So when I asked what he wanted me to do, he responded with “give me a mohawk I can slick back and still keeping my rat tail…And if you could give us a shave mate, that would be grass”.

This is Beth. She’s a 30-year-old mother of 4. She is half-Italian and half-aboriginal but 100% beautiful. Her story was remarkable and I couldn’t believe how much of a warrior she is. When I finished cutting her hair she said the most beautiful thing ever…”thanks for treating me like a human being”.

This is Marcel. He is in his late 30’s. I may state that many of my street clients are wonderful, sweet and pure souls but I can honestly say that no one, in my experience, has been as kind and and generous as Marcel. He has 4 kids, none of whom he gets to see anymore. The mother of his children who was his first love and now ex-wife took them away from him several years back. When he and his wife were together, they would use drugs often and that led his wife to become a street worker in order to make an income to supply their habit. Marcel, on the other hand, was a musician. When they had their first child, they both decided to kick the drugs and clean up. After their fourth child, Marcel lost lots of weight due to various stresses and anxiety, and his wife thought he was back on the gear again – which in turn led her to leave him and move to Western Australia. That destroyed Marcel’s mental and emotional health, causing him to legitimately get back on the gear, which ultimately led him to the streets. He is a chronic alcoholic and drinks mostly to mask his pain from everything. He now busks around the streets of Footscray doing comedy and selling various art pieces. He told me at one point “Man, my kids should be here working and having fun with their dad right now”. It was very dark and sad the way he said it. He wanted to keep his dreads but with a faded undercut, a cleanup of his mustache and facial hair. After the cut he had a dollar coin and asked me if I had extra change to give him for a beverage and I told him I only had card and no cash, which he literally understood as me not having any money, and he was like “aw man, take my last dollar”. He thanked me, put it in my hand and walked away. I almost cried from that selfless gesture.

This is Richie. A 46-year-old father of three. He hasn’t seen his daughter in 12 years, but gets to see his two sons every weekend. His youngest is named after him. I always would pass him and his friends on my way to work, and he was always suspicious of me offering a free cut/shave. He thought there was a catch or a hidden agenda. But after weeks of persistence he put down his guard and let me clean him up. The sense of humor he has was remarkable! He had me in stitches the whole time! If you see him around give him the time of day, it’ll be worth it!

This is Daniel. A 50-year-old man struggling with heroin addiction. Two years ago he lost his wife and then last year he lost his only son. He uses to mask the pain and as a result it’s left him on the streets. He really thought I was doing him a big favor, but I kept telling him that he’s wrong and that it was he that was doing me a great service…which is letting me cut hair! At the end of his haircut and shave I told him that he may have lost his son last year but today he gained another one. He hugged me and left with the biggest smile.

This is Leroy. A father of 5 boys. I couldn’t give him a full cut, just a face shave and a dry shampoo treatment. This was because he was the hood heroin dealer and couldn’t take the time off as he had to tend to the customers on the street. It was sad to see how he got his money, but in the end I realized all he really wanted was some love and someone to talk too regarding something other than getting high. He was feeling good and refreshed after the convo and before he left he told me “I’ve really got to do right by my youngest son”. Not everyone is a lost cause folks.

This is Steve. He’s 37. The way Steve spoke about his son was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. He loved him so much! Unfortunately, he had a serious addiction to heroin, and when I met Steve he had just recently used, so during his cut he was constantly nodding off which was quite sad to see. At a young age he was sexually abused by his mom’s brother, and claimed that this man had taken away his childhood. He used drugs to mask his emotions and pain he felt from that experience, which in turn ended up leading him to the streets. In the future folks, next time we see a person struck with addiction, don’t think “it’s their fault they’re like that”, because you have no idea what their story is.

This is Carlos. A 43-year-old man who has been in and out of jail for the last 20 years. He just got out two months ago and is determined to become a better father to his two children (aged 16 and 17) who he hasn’t been able to spend much time with. He developed a serious heroin habit in jail and calls the streets “home”. Carlos told me he has tried quitting “hammer”, but can’t shake the habit no matter how hard he tries. What really shook me was when he told me that the last time he cried was when he got out of jail and spent time with his 17 year old son. He was talking with his son about his life and his son told him “you know dad, you were only ever around for three of my birthdays” – which made Carlos break down and cry. The son held Carlos as he wept and said “it’s ok dad, we all make mistakes”. His son inspired me to be more empathetic and forgiving to those around me, and I hope he does the same for you.

This is John aka Aush. He’s 56-years-old. He walked by as I was cutting a few people and when I offered him a makeover he responded with “yes please” right away. He’s a great guy, but definitely didn’t have it easy for most his life. He didn’t have a family to rely on. His parents are dead and the relationship with his siblings doesn’t exist. They refuse to talk to him. He’s been on heroin for almost 3 decades, and in and out of jail since he was a youth. His heroin addiction was severe, and he actually kept dozing off from being so high from the hit of heroin he had recently taken before we crossed paths. When he would wake up and become coherent I asked him what he’s learnt so far in life and any advice he would be keen to give kids. He responded with “respect your parents, love your family with all your heart, strive for knowledge and an education” then ended with (and when he said this it gave me goosebumps) “stay away from drugs…it’s not worth it”.

Jen, a 50-year-old mother of 4, and grandmother of 3. Her kids don’t talk to her anymore and she suffers from a heroin addiction. She told me she hasn’t been able to get a proper cut in almost 5 years, let alone anything that had to do with her getting “pampered”, and said she was in desperate need for some attention on her hair. I brushed her hair free of knots, cut the split ends, reshaped her fringe, gave a dry shampoo treatment and massaged her hair and scalp with a coconut serum to help replenish the dry damaged hair she had. You see, I’m trained in men’s hair, so woman’s hair is virtually a foreign concept to me, but I tried my best and did exactly as she asked. She looked in the mirror, shook my hand then gave me a hug and said “thank you, I finally feel beautiful again”. The thing is I thought she was also beautiful before.

(Photo credit: Scott Bradshaw.)

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