Unique mobile salon serves Antwerp’s homeless

Summary

Peggy Jonckheere converted an old caravan into a hair salon for the homeless and people with financial difficulties

‘Everybody likes to look nice’

A new haircut is something we often take for granted. But to many people it’s a luxury they can’t afford.

With the mobile hair salon De Haarkar (The Hair Cart), Peggy Jonckheere of Antwerp aims to – quite literally – bring hair care to those who lack the means to visit a regular hairdresser. Because a decent haircut, she says, is a basic right.

Self-respect and dignity are central in the story of De Haarkar. “To most of us, these things are self-evident,” says Jonckheere. “But to a lot of people in our society, they are not. Things we take for granted, like getting a haircut, are out of reach for many. Here, at De Haarkar, everybody is welcome, no matter their social status or financial means.”

De Haarkar is basically a hair salon on wheels. Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, Jonckheere transformed an old caravan into a fully operational and neatly decorated salon. She can handle up to eight clients a day.

Jonckheere wants to give people who can’t afford a haircut at a typical salon a chance to refresh their image. Her customers come from all walks of life.

A new life

Some of her clients “don’t hesitate to spend €30 on a haircut,” she says. “Homeless people get a haircut for free; people in a difficult financial situation pay as much, or as little, as they can. With those three groups of clients, it all kind of evens out.”

At university, Jonckheere studied social work but decided on a career change after a skiing accident. While recovering, she took up a course in hairdressing. With De Haarkar, she was able to combine her earlier education with the newly acquired skills.

A visit to a hairdresser is a basic right, a step towards a more normal life

- Peggy Jonckheere of De Haarkar

Finding financially secure customers hasn’t been a problem, she says. The real challenge is reaching out to the homeless and those on low incomes. So she’s partnered with several social organisations in Antwerp.

To the critics who argue that giving impoverished people haircuts is a frivolous idea, she says: “One of my aims with De Haarkar is to make people think about basic human decency. A visit to a hairdresser is a basic right, a step towards a more normal life.”

With a well-groomed look, she continues, “homeless people might get a simple hello on the bus or in the shop. Because all too often, we forget how important looks are in our society. A decent haircut makes you feel good and normal again. Everybody likes to look nice.”

Photo: Katrijn Van Giel

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