Seattle street barber offers more than free haircuts

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

Randy Miller was walking down the sidewalk in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood on the hottest day of the year so far, cars whizzing by, looking for someone who needed a haircut .

He spotted a man across the street standing near an Arco gas station like he had nowhere to go.

When there was a traffic stoppage, Miller crossed the road to speak to her with a red camping chair slung over his shoulder, a small backpack with a hair clipper bouncing off his back.

“Do you want a free haircut and shave?” he asked the man.

They settled on the latter.

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

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

“You get more than a haircut with me,” Miller said.

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

He smiles, asks questions. He can hold court with passers-by, while keeping the person sitting in his chair the focus. He is gentle in his work, carefully tilting people’s heads forward or backward as needed. He carries wet wipes to help clean someone’s hair if they haven’t been able to shower in a while.

He’s talking about the Seahawks. Weather. Ask people where they are from. Shares some of his own story.

His barber chair has been upgraded since Miller started his business – from a milk crate to the folding chair he carries around. He used a trash bag in which he punched a hole for a beginner barber cape. Now it has a real one with a picture of Kobe Bryant on the front.

It operates on any open sidewalk, sometimes inside drop-in centers or homeless shelters. He is known to cut his hair at bus stops or in parking lots.

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

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

Miller knows this problem well. He created BetheBlessing206 to turn his frustration with the homelessness system into something useful. And he hopes it can lead to better things.

He started an Amazon wishlist to help get more gear. He is sure Twitter and Instagram. And people everywhere, from Alaska to Germany to England, sent him donations. Sometimes they come with little notes of encouragement.

“We got your back,” one person wrote.

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

These days, when he’s not working the day to earn a little extra cash, he’s out on the streets of Seattle cutting hair and trimming beards, offering a little 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 launched BetheBlessing206, he stood in front of a bathroom mirror cutting his hair with clippers surrounded by other homeless people. He was at a drop-in center in Seattle that helps poor people find work, when someone asked, “Hey man, can I use your lawnmower?”

“I told him, ‘No,’ because no,” Miller said. You have to watch out for yourself when you’re homeless and mowers are hard to come by.

But then he thought about it.

A month ago, he felt really frustrated with the system. Frustrated that the government and organizations were not helping him get out of homelessness. He began to pray in his shelter bunk, asking God, “How can I be homeless no more?”

“How come I can’t move on?” »

And God answered, Miller said.

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

At the drop-in centre, he approached the man who was asking for his lawnmower in the bathroom and told him he would make a better one. He would have cut her hair.

“I think love and relationship is what homelessness is missing,” Miller said. “I think people have been homeless for too long.”

Miller himself is still homeless. He currently lives in a shelter and he makes it work. He lived in a shelter or outside for about twenty years.

Miller’s parents divorced when he was young. In his childhood, he moved around a lot as an army brat. He was raised primarily by a single mother who did her best, Miller said.

But the things he’s earned in life — like getting his GED or jobs at a restaurant or an old apartment — he says he figured them out on his own.


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

” You’re ready ? Miller asked.

“Let’s do it,” Cage told him.

The couple started walking south, passing buses passing on Third Avenue, past tourists, past people lying in the street.

A few blocks later, Miller found what he was looking for: a wide sidewalk in front of a closed cafe.

“You have to be considerate,” he said.

The cops have already called him for cutting his hair once, so he’s careful to find places where he can feel out of the way.

Miller settled in while Cage did his hair using the window of an empty storefront as a mirror. Funky tunes blasted out from a round speaker, helping to set the mood.

People were passing. Some stopped to watch.

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

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

“They lifted me up,” he said. “It was low and short, and it was awkward. I looked like the moon.

Miller has cut his hair several times now. When it gets long, Cage said, he’ll wear a hat and look for Miller strolling around Pioneer Square and downtown Seattle.

Miller does not directly ask his clients if they are homeless. If you’re on the street and need a cut, he’ll do it. He does not ask for money, but if someone wants to give him a few dollars, he will take it.

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

Homeless people came up to him and asked him for a haircut if they had a job interview. He recently cut a guy’s hair because he wanted to look good to see his mother.

“How you look affects how you live,” Miller said. Housed people treat you differently if you look a bit put together.

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

But come by a good haircut? It’s much harder to find.

see a future

The day Miller gave Cage a fade, he said the trick to this style was to “be careful.”

This could apply to any aspect of her work BetheBlessing206.

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

Second, build personal relationships.

And third, create an experience.

“Since I’ve been homeless, one of our complaints I guess is that we want to be treated like ordinary people.”

Miller has a lot of goals when it comes to his haircut and service job friends and strangers in Seattle’s homeless community. He would like to find a way to go to hairdressing school and after that he wants to find a way to help more people, maybe by setting up a mobile hairdressing clinic in a van.

He uses the bus and light rail to get around, but with a vehicle he could cover a lot more ground.

His goal is not to own a four-bedroom house, he said. And he doesn’t want a brick-and-mortar store, serving people who already have homes.

He wants to find ways to give back to homeless people, people like him, people who feel forgotten.

My main verse for this in the Bible is “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Miller said.

He thinks that’s the part that shocks 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 at betheblessing206.

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