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Pop-up hair salon caters to homeless in Fireman's Park

Edward Westberg's hair was blond, thick and long, but his smile was wide as he ran his hands over his freshly shaven head. The 19-year-old, homeless since March 23, was one of about 50 people who received haircuts downtown in Fireman's Park Sunday afternoon.

Fireman's Park is bounded by South and North Division, Washington and Ellicott streets. Designed as a tribute to firefighters, the park has a fountain centerpiece with pathways that form the shape of a Maltese cross, a firefighting symbol of protection.

On Sunday, the urban park hosted a pop-up hair salon as homeless men and women stood in line waiting a turn in the styling chairs.

Westberg's haircut required a 20-minute workout, performed by Julie Edward and her electric shaver.

"I told you. Once you get started, you're not going to like it," Westberg told the stylist. "The best part is that this one is for free. I usually have to pay $20."

Lynn Starr receives a haircut from Charlene Minx, a volunteer for Buffalo's Good Neighbors, at Fireman's Park. (Jane Kwiatkowski/Buffalo News)

Taylor Minx brought a generator to power the shavers used by Edward and Charlene Minx, his wife. The generator's bellow nearly drowned out the sounds of Ishmial & Co., a drum and vocal group that often entertains at Fireman's Park.

"There's a lot of different reasons why I'm homeless right now," said Westberg, as he was picking up to leave. "There are a lot of kindhearted people in this town, but there are others who want nothing to do with you."

The free service was sponsored by volunteers from Buffalo's Good Neighbors, who also served lunch and provided people with bags of food and toiletries – just like they do between 1 and 3 p.m. each Sunday throughout the year.

Nearby was Michael Jarlenski of South Buffalo. "I got my hair cut last time," he said, removing his ball cap.

Lynn Starr, 49, was one of the few women who took advantage of the haircut offer. She lives at Rejuvenation Inc., a women's shelter in South Buffalo. Her boyfriend stays at the City Mission.

The park often serves as a gathering place for the city's homeless. It is not far from the Buffalo City Mission, the Buffalo Central Library and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus terminal.

Each year, an estimated 5,500 individuals are homeless in Western New York, according to the City Mission. More than half are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

Westberg represents a segment of homeless people, those between 18 and 24, that has become a growing concern in Buffalo and across the country, according to the Homeless Alliance of WNY.

Patrick Braunscheidel and his son, Jebadiah, 16, volunteer with Buffalo's Good Neighbors. On Sunday, they were giving water and Gatorade to the men and women.

Braunscheidel, a West Seneca West Senior High School history teacher, has volunteered every Sunday for nearly two years. He is a spiritual man who studied to become a deacon.

"I was working at it, but then I realized I would be in a church, and you need to be out with the people," he said.

"You meet people where they are, not where you want them to be," said Braunscheidel. "When you meet people where they want to be, there is a bond."

Fireman's Park is "a notorious park of need," said Cheryl Schultz of Clarence. Schultz and Sheryl Allen of Hamburg are core members of Buffalo's Good Neighbors. For the last four years, they spent nearly every Sunday afternoon at the park.

Peter Jonas, 61, is a Sunday regular at Fireman's Park, where he receives a hot meal and bag of food to take back to the South Buffalo shelter where he stays. (Jane Kwiatkowski/Buffalo News)

 

"We still celebrate my daughter's birthday, and Mother's and Father's Day, but we do it after 3 o'clock," said Schultz. "Our friends and neighbors never let us down. We keep collection bins on our back porches. People stop by to fill the bins with toiletries, canned goods and bottled water. Sometimes we don't even know who it is."

The volunteer group sponsors a Facebook page where they request specific hygiene items, snacks and drinks. It has a rotating list of volunteers to make sandwiches or a hot side dish. Sunday's hot offering was chicken a la king. The group is currently in need of more hair stylists.

On average, 100 to 150 bags of food, plus the hot meal, are handed out each Sunday throughout the year, said Schultz.

Peter Jonas, 61, sat cross-legged on a park pathway Sunday eating the chicken dish. Jonas, an unemployed dishwasher, stays in a South Buffalo shelter.

"I live alone and I'm a bachelor," he said. "It's tough to meet good people on the streets."

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